Spanish PM calls for debate on treating COVID-19 as endemic

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A group of young students wearing face mask protection to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disinfect their hands while waiting in a queue before entering the Luis Amigo school after Christmas holidays, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Spanish health authorities try to control high incidence curve of COVID-19.(AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says that amid falling lethality rates for COVID-19, Spain wants European officials to consider whether to move away from the detailed tracking that the pandemic has required until now to a flu-like monitoring system.

The change would mean treating COVID-19 as an “endemic illness” rather than a pandemic, Sánchez said Monday, adding that deaths as a proportion of recorded cases have fallen dramatically since the initial onset of the pandemic.

“I believe that we have the conditions for, with precaution, slowly, opening the debate at the technical level and at the level of health professionals, but also at the European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now,” Sánchez told Cadena SER radio.

The prime minister confirmed a report from the country’s leading newspaper, El País, that under a new monitoring system already being drafted by Spanish health authorities every new infection would not need to be recorded and that people with symptoms would not necessarily be tested but they will continue to receive treatment.

Citing epidemiology officials, El País said that the plan would be for a network of carefully chosen health facilities and professionals to report, in a survey-like system similar to the one used across Europe for tracking influenza, the evolution of COVID-19 outbreaks — what technically is called “sentinel surveillance” rather than the current method of “universal surveillance.”

Health Minister Carolina Darias has discussed the proposal with some of her counterparts in the European Union, Sánchez said without elaborating.

The prime minister also announced that Spain is purchasing this month 344,000 pills of a COVID-19 antiviral drug developed by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Despite a successful vaccination rollout, Spain is grappling with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections.

Some 8 million primary and secondary-level students were resuming classes Monday after a long Christmas and New Year break. Authorities have shortened isolation periods and softened the requirements for quarantining entire classrooms when outbreaks happen, to avoid major disruptions in schools.

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