Between both scenarios, the supercalima of February 22 and 23 played a leading role, which, although it did not help to dispel the virus, it did force to carry out “small home isolations”, which could have something to do with a brake on the expansion of the coronavirus during that “peak” moment of the pandemic. It should be remembered that, just one day later, on February 24, the first known case of coronavirus was declared on the island of Tenerife by an Italian citizen who was spending holidays on the island.
The dense haze had a positive effect: it forced many islanders to stay home
“The cancellation of the carnival celebrations due to the sandstorm in the Canary Islands seems to have contributed in a different way to the reduction of the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 in Tenerife and Gran Canaria.” This conclusion has been published in the scientific journal Gaceta Sanitaria, the eleventh with the most impact in Spain, but which, even so, is 65% less relevant than the publication to which it was sent for review in the first instance: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. According to Serra, it was the leak of the study to the Canarian media during its review phase that caused it to finally not be published. “The journal does not approve that the data appear published before its review,” said Serra.
“It is still a hypothesis,” said the researcher, who admitted that the work lacks certain data that would help to confirm this premise as a phylogenetic analysis of the virus, which could have given a broader view of how the virus entered and spread through the Canarian community. “The issue was to investigate the variables that we were handling at that time,” remarked the spokesman, and among them are data on air pollution, number of commercial flights canceled, number of vehicles and people who entered Santa Cruz on the day of the Day Carnival (February 23), number of confirmed cases and accumulated incidents in the capital of Tenerife and Gran Canaria on April 1, 2020.
The main researcher for this article is Laura Tomaino, PhD candidate, from the Department of Clinical and Community Sciences of the University of Milan, in Italy, who has tutored during this time Lluis Serra himself. His line of research is more associated with some diseases that originate in nutrition, as well as the potential of different diets. Tomaino has also contributed to an article on air pollution. “It is not the research line of his thesis”, admitted Serra, who explained that this article that he signs as the main author is “a separate activity within his training.”
In the article, entitled Impact of a sandstorm and carnivals on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Tenerife and Gran Canaria, Jaime Pinilla and Patricia Barber-Pérez, from the Covid analysis group, also appear as main signatories. -19, Covidcan, associated with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC); Silvia Rodríguez-Mireles, from the admissions service of the Hospital Universitario de Gran Canaria Doctor Negrín and member of Covidcan; the economist Beatriz González López-Varcárcel and the epidemiologist Antonio Sierra, both members of the Canary Islands expert committee; Carlo La Vecchia, an Italian epidemiologist whose line of research is based on the impact of bad habits associated with certain diseases, and Lluis Serra-Majem, the ULPGC epidemiologist who, apart from being the spokesperson for the expert committee, works in a line of research focused on nutrition and the Mediterranean diet.
The article published in Gaceta Sanitaria qualifies some considerations that had been taken into account during the preparation of this article that did appear in the document that was sent to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and that were leaked to the press a few months ago. In this first article in review, only the “worst haze of the last 40 years” was considered as the event that could modify the expansion of the coronavirus in both islands.
However, in this last review it is added that it may also have had to do with the different origins and flows of tourists who were visiting Tenerife and Gran Canaria at that time. “This study helps us to study the spread of the virus, which was influenced by multiple variables,” admitted Serra. The names of two experts linked to the Ministry of Health do not appear in this latest version either: Domingo Núñez, head of epidemiology of the Canary Islands Health Service and Octavio Jiménez, general director of assistance programs of the SCS. Both, according to Serra confirmed, requested to be excluded from the publication, although he did not go into details of the reasons.
One more hypothesis joins a battery of them to try to clarify what caused Tenerife to lead the infections during the first wave. As the former Minister of Health, Julio Pérez, pointed out at the time, a “tremendously complex” analysis must be carried out for which much more data is required.
- February 22 and 23 – The supercalima: During February 22 and 23, the Canary Islands experienced an unprecedented Saharan air intrusion, where the PM10 levels of more than 1,000 particles during that Sunday. The dense haze forced the population to confine themselves in a preventive manner to avoid health problems. For the study’s signatories, this could cut some routes of contagion of the coronavirus in its heyday.
- February 24 – First case of Covid: The haze event was still fading and Tenerife was reporting its first case of coronavirus. It was a citizen of Italian origin who went to a hospital with symptoms compatible with coronavirus.
- February 23 – The Day Carnival: Despite the haze, Santa Cruz celebrated its Day Carnival. That day 55,800 vehicles entered the city and the tram carried a total of 32,614 passengers. This event is believed to have acted as a supercontagator on the island.