January 23, 2021

Why the Canary Islands register the highest number of imported cases of COVID-19 in Spain

The Canary Islands is the community that reports the most imported cases of coronavirus in all of Spain. The first three positions in the classification are for the Archipelago (874 diagnoses since May 11), Andalusia (858) and Catalonia (488). Madrid does not come close to these data. Only between the week of December 22 to 28, the Islands notified 52 positives from abroad, 28.88% of the national group. “It is a very high incidence”, highlights Beatriz González, professor and researcher in Health Economics and member of the scientific committee of the regional government. There are days, according to reports from the Ministry of Health, where the list of this type of infected skyrockets. For example, on the 25th of this month, there were 27 infected; on November 20, 14; and on October 19, a record: 65 detections. The question becomes imperative, why is this happening in the Canary Islands?

First you have to put context. The imported cases in the Archipelago are divided into three groups: tourists who land in the Islands and contract the disease, national travelers who go to the Canary Islands, and migrants who arrive by boat. This does not happen in all the autonomies. Most do not require PCR, others hardly receive foreign visitors and the flow of migrants that have arrived irregularly on the Canary coast is unparalleled. Neither in Spain nor in the last ten years. These three events have led the Archipelago to cover about 19% of imported cases nationwide. If we analyze the autochthonous positives, that is, those that have occurred among residents, the figure drops to 1.4%. “The disproportion is enormous,” emphasizes González.

There are no tourists and there are no positives

The obvious at this point is fulfilled. The Canary Islands are experiencing the worst tourist crisis in their history. Germany and the United Kingdom, the largest exporters of tourists, have closed tight and have placed the Archipelago as a “risk zone”. The rest of the travelers who come from risk countries (practically all at the moment) must present a negative PCR carried out in the 72 hours prior to their arrival, which has ended up finishing off the sector due to the high cost of the diagnostic test.

Tourist infections continue to exist. According to internal sources of Health, some are notified every week, but the incidence is minimal. The ports and airports have iron controls. And the Executive of Ángel Víctor Torres has always remembered that tourism has not been the door, until now, of the virus.

National travelers and destination tests

On December 18, the Canarian Government imposed the need to certify a negative PCR in the six airports of the Archipelago that operate with domestic flights. For residents of the Islands there is the possibility of going to a laboratory on the Peninsula and taking the test for free. For nationals, the test can be carried out at origin or destination. In this way, if someone decides to get on the plane without PCR, they can go to a medical center at their destination and keep isolation until the test result is obtained. If positive, it is an imported type of case. And with this model in hand, Health has reported 73 infected until December 30.

The other type of imported case is that of a national traveler who has traveled to the Islands to visit a relative or relative, is not a resident of the Canary Islands, and tests positive after a few days. This is the pattern most trackers discover. “The PCR is an X-ray of that day. If you come from Madrid, you test negative, but in a few days you present symptoms and you become infected, it is an imported case ”, they explain.

High mobility on Christmas dates implies a higher burden of infections. In Spain the figures have rebounded and in the Canary Islands it is rare the day that detections are below 200. “It is a date in which everyone moves. And when you require tests for all the mobility of people, you are going to report more cases ”, point out specialized sources.

Screening of migrants

All migrants who arrive in the Canary Islands irregularly are treated by Public Health to detect cases of COVID-19. The more than 20,000 who have survived the Canarian route in 2020 go through a PCR and the quarantine process as soon as they arrive. Health does not report the data on diagnoses along with the rest of the autonomic cases because in this situation it does not have a real control of transmission. It is an exogenous reality that you cannot exercise.

In addition, tracking and the concept of “close contact” disappear, since all the crew members of the boat are subjected to the test and are quickly isolated if they test positive.

The issue here is that no other community has received as many migrants as the Archipelago, so the registry of imported cases inflates every time there are days with 400 or 500 arrivals and some people test positive. On one of the few occasions in which the real registry of infected migrants was made public, back in September, Health reported that only 3 of the 168 active outbreaks corresponded to this group. However, with respect to imported cases that have occurred in the last week (52), internal sources do report that the vast majority correspond to migrants who have arrived by boat.


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