The presence in 90% of the cases of covid-19 detected in Val d’Aran of the British variant, much more contagious and brought to the area by mass Christmas tourism, and the breaches of mobility restrictions are the reasons why this autonomous region is in the worst epidemic situation in Catalonia.
This is explained by the Computational Biology and Complex Systems research group of the UPC in its latest report sent last Friday to the European Commission , in which it analyzes this case and recommends to the authorities greater surveillance of tourist areas to prevent outbreaks epidemic.
The regrowth risk index (EPG), which measures the expansion potential of the virus, in this autonomous region of Catalonia is 1,711 points this Tuesday, the highest of all regions, when the threshold to be considered a high risk is 100.
In the report, the UPC experts, dedicated to daily monitoring all cases by region in Europe, analyze the evolution of the epidemic in this Pyrenean area since the situation there seemed completely controlled at the beginning of December, with zero cases for two weeks.
“A sudden increase in activity, associated with the Christmas season and trips to second homes near ski resorts, coincide with a large increase in the number of cases,” the experts point out in their report.
In addition, they also indicate that approximately 90% of the cases that appear in Val d’Aran belong to the new variant of the B188.8.131.52 virus, the so-called British variant, more contagious, which, according to the BIOCOMSC, reached the Pyrenean valley hand in hand with tourists on Christmas time.
“That is, from a situation in which there are almost no cases of the old variant, the new variant suddenly appears”, although after the Christmas peak it returned to low levels, and again showed a “worrying trend” in early February , with the appearance of secondary shoots.
“The situation seems more difficult to control precisely due to the high transmissibility of the new variant,” according to the report, which states in its report that “the persistence in the number of cases after Christmas can be explained by two hypotheses.”
The first of these is that the Christmas peak and the increase in mobility were associated with “a level of relaxation of the measures that have been sustained.”
The report, which has analyzed displacements in the region through the movement of anonymized mobile phones , has found that during the month of February there was “once again an increase in mobility.”
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The second hypothesis is that people from abroad not only brought the new variant but also generated a cascade of outbreaks that began first at the local internal level and then, through contacts, spread among the local population in the following weeks, with a double peak seen after New Years and then mid-January.
“In any case, Val d’Aran is one more example of an association between an increase in activity and people in a tourist attraction that previously had a very low incidence of covid-19,” the report states.
Experts recommend that the European authorities “establish a clear public policy regarding tourist attraction”, especially in small countries with a high level of mobility to the countryside, such as Luxembourg or Andorra, which have had periods of very high incidence.
The experts also stress that “ski resorts and ski resort-related movement are a key focus of the discussion on the type of measures needed to control epidemics and their impact.”
At this point, the report puts for example France, which carried out border controls to prevent skiers from spreading COVID-19 in early December.
The reason given was that coronavirus clusters in alpine ski resorts played a key role in the early spread of the virus in Europe.
In this sense, the agency warns that in rural areas with rural areas with little population “an outbreak of incoming population” may suddenly appear, although it admits that epidemiological indicators in sparsely populated areas do not work as well as in more populated cities .
“If we consider a region with 10,000 inhabitants, an outbreak of 30 cases results in an incidence of 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which is above most of the risk thresholds. In addition, and more importantly, when you are Sparsely populated regions are popular destinations, a holiday period can completely disturb their epidemiological situation “, concludes the BIOCOMSC.
That is what happens, according to the BIOCOMSC, in Val d’Aran, which in summer is a mountain destination for hikers and families and in winter becomes an important attraction for skiers, who on Christmas holidays were able to go to the Pyrenean valley because, although there were regional restrictions, you could go if the destination was a hotel or a second home.