Scientists to Spanish politicians: 'You rule but don't know'

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A nurse wearing wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus gathers during a protest demanding an improvement in wages and labor conditions at La Paz hospital in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Madrid has been the source of Europe's most worrying surge of infections in the ongoing second wave of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID – Although the speed of new coronavirus infections is waning, hard-hit Spain has accumulated more than 800,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic as scientists and health workers redouble their criticism for how the country's politicians have responded to it.

The health ministry on Monday confirmed 23,480 new infections for the previous three days, bringing the total caseload to 813,412. The two-week infection rate per 100,000 inhabitants has come down from 286 cases on Sept. 23, a peak for the second wave that Europe is experiencing since the end of the summer, to 254 on Monday.

“These are still very high incidence rates that are keeping us in a situation of high risk,” said Fernando Simón, the ministry’s top coronavirus expert, warning that delays in reporting the weekend data could be underplaying the true extent of the virus spread.

Simón said that the goal is to reduce the caseload “below 50 cases” per 100,000 residents in 14 days.

Hospital admissions have kept increasing, slow but steadily, according to the latest available data. Over 9% of normal beds and more than 18% of intensive care unit beds are devoted to treating COVID-19 patients at the national level, although the situation is far worse in the most affected areas.

Madrid, with 586 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, has been the source of Europe’s most worrying surge of infections in the ongoing wave. The region has also been the battleground between the left-wing national government and the conservative regional authorities, who have gone head-to-head over how to rein in the outbreak.

Nearly 4.8 million people in the Spanish capital and nearby towns are since last Friday restricted to stay within their municipalities, having to justify trips in and out for work, study or to conduct indispensable administrative or legal errands. Attendance and opening hours of shops and restaurants are also affected and social gatherings remain limited to a maximum of six people.

After weeks of the political kerfuffle over Madrid, scientific groups representing over 170,000 health workers urged Spanish politicians to base their response to the coronavirus pandemic on science rather than politics.