Spain could become the first European country to downgrade Covid-19 to a ‘flu-like’ status, after seeing fatality rates drop.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the situation in Spain “is not what we faced a year ago” and has pushed his EU counterparts to consider the possibility of treating coronavirus like the flu.
Mr Sánchez cited the country’s “exemplary” vaccine uptake as a reason for the change, adding it is time to “evaluate the evolution of Covid to an endemic illness”.
The change would mean lockdown measures and counting daily infections would be scrapped, with coronavirus instead tracked like cases of the flu.
Spain's health ministry has developed a system known as “sentinel” for monitoring Covid-19, which mirrors how flu outbreaks are tracked in the country.
Sentinel uses sample data from GPs to predict and respond to waves of disease rather than counting every recorded case with a test-and-trace system, according to Fortune.
The Prime Minister also suggested using “new instruments” to manage Covid-19, including the new antiviral pill Paxlovid from Pfizer.
The push to downgrade Covid-19 to flu-like status is expected to be met with resistance from both Germany and France where vaccine uptake remains low.
By comparison, more than 90% of Spain’s population over the age of 11 is now fully vaccinated, while 85% of people over 60 have had a booster dose.
The country has also seen its Covid-19 fatality rate fall to one per cent - a huge drop from the 13% at the height of the first wave when Spain recorded 1,000 deaths per day.
Health experts have stressed that vaccination is the best form of protection against coronavirus and the UK government is still calling on people to come forward for their booster.
Just over 60% of people eligible in the UK have had a booster dose, while 83% of people aged 12 and over are now fully vaccinated, based on the latest government figures.
UK ‘closest country to exiting pandemic’
The calls to downgrade Covid-19 to flu-like status in Spain comes amid claims that the UK is the closest of any country in the northern hemisphere to exiting the pandemic.Professor David Heymann, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), suggested in a Chatham House online briefing that the UK was seeing the disease become endemic.
He said: “In general, now, the countries that we know best in the northern hemisphere have varying stages of the pandemic.
“And probably, in the UK, it’s the closest to any country of being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic as the other four coronaviruses.”
Prof Heymann said immunity against Covid-19 is already high among the UK population, which reduced the threat of severe disease.
He added: “That means immunity against serious illness and death after infection if one is vaccinated, or after re-infection if one has had illness before, and that population immunity seems to be keeping the virus and its variants at bay, not causing serious illness or death in countries where population immunity is high.
“I looked at the ONS (Office for National Statistics) most recent report on population immunity and they estimated about 95% of the population in England, and a little less than in other parts of the United Kingdom, do have antibodies to infection either from vaccination or from natural infection.
“And that antibody, as I said, is keeping the virus at bay. And it’s now functioning more like an endemic coronavirus than one that is a pandemic.”