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Spain's COVID-19 cases continue to drop despite variants

Anadolu Agency WORLD
Published February 22,2021
People wearing protective masks walk past bar customers after bars reopened in Spain's Basque Country, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bilbao, Spain, February 19, 2021. REUTERS/Vincent West

With just under 21,000 new coronavirus cases reported on Monday, Spain saw the lowest number of weekend infections so far this year.

The news comes despite the Health Ministry confirming an increasing number of variants of concern from around the world.

The variant first found in the UK has been sequenced nearly 900 times in Spain. The ministry said it is more contagious and could be more lethal than other strains, but will not drastically affect vaccines.

"It's expanding slower than expected," said Fernando Simon, Spain's chief epidemiologist. "Probably because the measures we've taken have helped prevent its spread."

Although the country has sequenced fewer than 1,000 cases, it has become dominant in the regions of Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, and Catalonia. In Castile La Mancha or the Basque Country, it is still suspected to be behind less than 10% of cases.

Meanwhile, the country has detected 15 cases of the variant first found in South Africa, which the ministry says makes vaccines less effective.

South Africa even canceled the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after it was found to have little effect on COVID-19 caused by the mutation.

Spain has confirmed two small outbreaks of that variant. One stemming from a group of travelers who went to Tanzania, and another cluster of four possibly related cases.

Authorities have found just one case of the P.1 variant common in Manaus, Brazil, where there was a major resurgence of cases despite research suggesting the population had a high level of immunity from previous waves.

The ministry said it is also studying four other potentially threatening variants of the novel virus.

The European country has detected one case of the B.1.525 variant, common in Nigeria, which Simon said "has one of the mutations that could favor immune escape."

Eleven cases of the P2 variant, also from Brazil, have also been confirmed. Studies around that variant are so far inconclusive, but suspect it could also lead to more reinfections and decreased vaccine efficacy.

Over the weekend, Spain confirmed another 535 lives lost to COVID-19. It has administered just over 3 million vaccine doses, with nearly 1.2 million people having received both shots.