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HEALTH

Respiratory infections soar in Spain over Christmas as hospitals struggle

Cases of viral respiratory infections such as flu, Covid and bronchitis have shot up over the past few weeks in Spain, putting an enormous strain on hospitals across the country and causing a severe lack of beds.

Respiratory infections soar in Spain over Christmas as hospitals struggle
Respiratory viruses skyrocket in Spain as hospitals face collapse. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Winter colds and flu are common, but this year Spain has seen a spike in cases of three different viruses – flu, Covid and bronchitis at the same time.

This comes after the festive and New Year period with lots of family gatherings and meetings with friends without much thought for social distancing days of the pandemic.

Rise in cases

According to health services, there are 35 percent more cases of these infections than a year ago, a percentage that is expected to continue rising until the third week of January when the epidemic peak will be reached after more gatherings for Three Kings’ Day on January 5th and 6th.

In a period of seven days, the rates of flu have gone from 532 to 908 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The cases of Covid have also grown from 12.6 percent to 13.6 percent.

The Health Minister, Monica García has published a message on social media reminding the public of the importance of getting vaccinated and maintaining prevention measures, such as ventilating rooms, washing hands and wearing a mask.

The head of the Emergency Department at the Reina Sofía University Hospital in Murcia, explained that the profile of these patients ranges “from young people with flu pathologies who go to the emergency room because health centres have delayed their appointments and people over 80 years old with pneumonia due to the flu who end up being admitted”.

Lack of hospital beds

According to the first vice president of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine (SEMES), Pascual Piñera, 10 of patients with these infections end up admitted to hospital overnight and one of the biggest problems staff are facing is the severe lack of beds, “They have nowhere to put the sick”, he explained.

The situation is the same all over the country. Red Workers union of the La Paz University Hospital in Madrid has reported that there are 105 patients pending admission and beds in the hallways are in double rows, “which cannot be evacuated if the patient worsens or there is a fire”.

Delays in primary health care 

Acute respiratory infections not only put a strain on hospitals and emergency rooms, but also primary care centres, causing delays and long waiting times for appointments. 

The spokesperson for the Federation of Associations for the Defence of Public Health (FADSP), Marciano Sánchez Bayle, explains that it is generating a “major traffic jam” in the healthcare system “where appointments are made for very late dates”.

Sánchez Bayle cites the case of the Community of Madrid, where he knows that appointments requested in December were not given until the end of January “which further clogs an already saturated system”. 

The need for greater vaccination rates 

Besides the festive period, many health professionals believe that the situation could be improved if more people were getting vaccinated, specifically against the flu. 

Flu vaccination in Spain is far below the WHO recommendations, hovering around 50 percent of the population at risk, when the goal is 75 percent. And the percentage is even lower in the case of children under five.

According to the Ministry of Health, the objectives for vaccination against flu and Covid-19 for the 2023-2024 season are to achieve or exceed vaccination coverage of 75 percent in older people and health workers, as well as 60 percent for pregnant women and people with at-risk conditions.

Amós García Rojas from Spain’s Vaccinology Association believes that after a few years without flu during the Covid pandemic, society has relaxed.

The vaccination campaign has not yet ended, so there’s still time to get yours before the end of the season. The campaign began on October 15th and ends on January 31st. 

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PENSIONS

REVEALED: Five subsidies pensioners in Spain can claim

If you're a pensioner in Spain, it's worth knowing that there are several benefits available to you, in order to help you out with rising living costs.

REVEALED: Five subsidies pensioners in Spain can claim

With the rise in the cost of living, particularly food, bills, transport and rent, it’s getting harder and harder for people to make ends meet, especially for pensioners who typically only have a finite amount coming in and are no longer working, so cannot top up their income.

Data shows that pensioners are one of the most vulnerable age groups in the country, particularly because they also have to deal with discrimination and technological barriers, as well as financial ones.

Thankfully there are several subsidies and public aid that elderly people in Spain can access in order to make life easier.

It’s important to be aware that some of these subsidies may not be available to people with overseas pensions.

Discounts on telephone rates

It’s important for elderly people to stay connected to their families, both on the phone and via the internet, and luckily there is financial aid for this in the form of vouchers from phone companies.

These enable you to save up to 70 percent on individual line registration fees, as well as discounts on monthly fees, which can be up to 95 percent. In order to be eligible, you must prove that your family income does not exceed €9,023.50 per year and that you are a beneficiary of a public pension.

Heating and electricity payments

If you’re in a vulnerable situation, you can apply for a reduction in your electricity bill. The discount applied may change depending on your situation and needs, but you can be granted up to 80 percent of your bill if the authorities deem it necessary.

The minimum amount you will receive if you’re successful is €40 per month. This subsidy covers hot water and heating costs that are included in your electricity bill.

Help with rental payments

Although in Spain, most pensioners own their own property, it has been revealed that there are still five percent who rent. If you are one of these, then you can also be granted financial aid in order to help pay for your home. This benefit is a single payment of €525 and is directed at all beneficiaries of a non-contributory retirement pension who are holders of a rental contract and do not own a home.

The property has to be your habitual home and you cannot have any family relationship with the landlord. You can request this from the relevant authorities of your region, Provincial Councils of the Basque Country and Navarra, and the Territorial Directorates of the Institute for the Elderly and Social Services (Imserso) of Ceuta and Melilla.

Aid for dependent living

If you live on your own or with a partner or family member, rather than in a care home, but still require assistance, you may be able to request benefits for home care or day centres. Keep in mind that this type of aid is typically only available to those who have been paying into the Spanish social security system, but it’s worth checking with your local authorities to see what your options are if you haven’t been.

Top up for reducing the gender gap

If you’re a woman and receive a Spanish pension, then you may be able to get a small bonus added on to your monthly payments with the aim of compensating for the damage to your professional career you’ve suffered over the years. This may be because you were the primary caretaker for your children and therefore your career suffered a setback. The supplement this year is set at €33.20 per month.

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