Delta strain forces Spain’s Catalonia to restore curfew

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona and the surrounding northeast corner of Spain is shutting down once again to stem an unchecked wave of the delta variant of the coronavirus that is running wild among the unvaccinated young.

Regional authorities on Thursday were waiting for a judge to give the legal go-ahead for their request to restore a nightly curfew, their latest effort to ratchet up restrictions and discourage social gatherings where the virus spreads.

The curfew order would affect those towns with a population over 5,000 which surpass the rate of 400 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days.

The more infectious delta strain is pushing infections back up in many countries, even in Europe where vaccination efforts are going well and the public healthcare systems are robust. But Catalonia doubles the Spanish average and is among the most hard-hit areas in Europe with over 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days. Only Cyprus is worse off in Europe, according to the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scenes of revelry became common in many of Spain’s cities once the government lifted a six-month nighttime curfew in early May. The government had hoped to give some relief to businesses and send the message abroad that Spain was open again for its all-important summer tourist season. At that time, Spain’s rate of new cases had fallen under 200 per 100,000 over 14 days. Two months later it is over 450 and rising.

Catalonia’s youth is particularly worrying. The 20-29 age group is posting a rate over 3,300 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days.

“It all started with the end of school, which had served as a safe place where sanitary measures worked well. And then we saw a series of trips of students to celebrate the end of the school year and other festivities, and that was the start,” said Catalan health official Carmen Cabezas. “That, combined with the arrival of the delta variant … made for a perfect storm.”

Authorities in Catalonia are rolling out a series of measures to combat the new outbreak. Mobile vaccination units are targeting areas with lower vaccination rates. The government will start offering free antigen tests to parents of children 10-16 years old who are participating in summer camps. And the upscale beach town of Sitges is trying out airborne drones to monitor the occupancy of its beaches.

But most of all, Spain is counting on getting its young people vaccinated. After meticulously working downward through age groups, health officials recently opened up vaccination slots for anyone over 16 years old.

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