“The coronavirus does not understand races, countries or social classes,” it was said at the beginning of the pandemic, when a new disease had hit several parts of the world equally. A year and a half later, the data and epidemiological studies refute that thesis. Nations without access to medical advances or vaccines face a major grievance vis-à-vis Europe and the United States, and even in the latter, income levels paint a very different picture within the same cities.
Cases skyrocket in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Barcelona after outbreaks in end-of-term trips
Barcelona and Madrid, the two largest capitals in Spain, have now experienced the opposite phenomenon to that at other times of the pandemic. If in other waves the first cases accumulated in neighborhoods poor, influenced by the imperative of face-to-face work and the use of public transport, are now the neighborhoods rich, with greater economic and tourist activity and with higher incomes those that have concentrated an incidence linked to other risky activities. However, the speed of the transmission is so high that the impact begins to be felt in the most humble areas. These two autonomous capitals are the only ones that shed their infections through basic health areas, but experts assume that it is a trend that has occurred in other cities of the country.
In Barcelona, infections soared in the wealthiest neighborhoods of the city after end-of-year trips, at the end of June. The situation is so out of control in Barcelona that now they have also spread to the working class, such as Horta-Guinardó and Sants-Montjüic. The districts of Ciutat Vella, Eixample and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi reach incidences within 14 days of up to 2,083 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The first, although it does not stand out for rent, is one of the most touristy and in recent days has ousted Les Corts among the most affected by the fifth wave.
“In Barcelona we started from a worse base than the others,” explains Quique Bassat, an epidemiologist at ISGlobal and a city resident. “Sant Joan is celebrated here like nowhere else and there are still large bottles and events every night,” he explains. Most of the infections in Catalonia, which is the most affected region in the country, correspond to young people between 20 and 29 years old. The latest incidence data in this group offered by Health is 3,375 cases. It is followed closely by those between 12 and 19 years of age, with 2,487 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. “It’s outrageous,” acknowledges Bassat.
Catalonia has wanted to stop it by imposing the absolute closure of nightlife, advancing the hours of the hotel business and requesting the Superior Court of Justice for a curfew at 1:00 in the morning that, since last Saturday, affects 161 municipalities. “Vaccination has caused the impact to skyrocket among those who have access to leisure,” explains Pedro Gullón, member of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) and author of the scientific article COVID does understand social classes. Not only young people in general, but also those who allowed themselves “to go on an end-of-year trip to Mallorca or Salou, pay 20-euro tickets at a disco or go to festivals with a price that is not very affordable for everyone.”
The manager of the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) related the first outbreaks in the more affluent neighborhoods, such as Sarrià or Les Corts, with the end-of-year trips. There were more than fifteen affected schools in the city and the majority were private and subsidized schools in the upper part of the city. “Bottles and vacations are risk factors throughout the city, but the first cases depended on travel, mobility, paid nightlife – which occurs indoors more than outdoors – and who could afford it” Bassat admits.
Although the epidemiological situation in Madrid is better than that of Catalonia, the trend “barrio rich and neighborhood poor“It is repeated. The Centro, Chamberí and Salamanca districts far exceed those of Villa and Puente de Vallecas, Villaverde or Carabanchel. While the former are around 450 incidents, the latter score three times below, with 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants , according to the latest available data published by the Community of Madrid last Tuesday. Again, the age cohorts most affected are those between 12 and 19 years old, and those between 20 and 29. “The fifth wave has shifted towards young people and it has much more to do with leisure and closed places than the previous ones, “says Manuel Franco, professor of Public Health at the University of Alcalá and Johns Hopkins, and a resident of Chamberí.
“They are kids who usually come from more affluent families and who are involved in outbreaks like the one in Mallorca or those related to paid leisure,” the expert perceives. He also defends that this population was more protected in previous phases of the pandemic, when the impact was concentrated in the humble areas of Madrid. “In a first stage, when we were all very sensitized, the greatest exposure was given by essential jobs and mobility from areas far from the city center. On the other hand, the most privileged people were able to telework or attend classes on-line, and now they are virgins“interprets Franco.
Although Madrid is at high risk due to transmission, with a total incidence of 340, it refuses to request the curfew that has entered into force in the Valencian Community or in Catalonia itself. It is also one of the few regions that keeps nightlife open until 3:00 and closes the hospitality business at 1:00. “Although the nightclubs have put security measures, control of capacity, masks or separation between tables, it is a complicated space that has conditions predisposed to transmission,” acknowledges Gullón. In the case of Madrid, most of these stores are in the downtown areas with the highest incidence.
The problem with gathering the groups that are still unvaccinated in discotheques is that it generates an effect of “lack of immunity”. It is not something that happens specifically in Madrid and not only has to do with nightlife, but with the holidays themselves. “The pattern is similar to that of all cities: the first outbreaks in Cantabria were closely related to upper-class people who vacation from Euskadi, or those from Navarra with whom they were able to go on an end-of-year trip to other regions”, recalls the epidemiologist.
Experts agree that at the beginning of the pandemic, transmission depended on social class, work, housing, and sanitary conditions. Now it has moved down the age pyramid and leisure and purchasing power are the factors with the greatest exposure. “Vacation mobility is high class, there are many people who do not have a vacation or have it for one week a year,” says Franco.
Turn of the tables: the humble neighborhoods, the safest
Almost a year ago, at the beginning of the second wave, Spain experienced the opposite case. In Madrid, Aragon or the Balearic Islands, infections began to multiply at the end of August in the working-class neighborhoods. At that time, the perimeter confinements only affected some areas of these cities and residents demanded compensation for the lack of resources. In the specific case of Madrid, they demonstrated against a “discriminatory” and “unworthy” measure towards the southern neighborhoods, the most overpopulated and impoverished in the region. Now, Usera, Vallecas, Carabanchel or Villaverde are the best.
“Last summer we had both the outbreaks of seasonal workers and companies that were returning to face-to-face work. They were closely related to work and family life. Nightlife even affected the workers more than the people who came. In addition It was open for a very short time and had many restrictions “, compares Pedro Gullón. Regarding the leisure that is also enjoyed in the most humble neighborhoods, experts prefer not to theorize, but they understand that it may be more likely to take place in open spaces.
Will the trend change again in September with the return to work? Will the districts ever be poor the most affected? “At the end of the summer we will have a more advanced vaccination and the general transmission will be lower. Outside of leisure, the incidents will be balanced and will be more related to the workplace”, confides Gullón. Bassat is concerned about going back to school, the design of which depended on two factors: a low incidence among young people and a high vaccination rate in adolescents. “Nothing like that happens. You can go back to school, but I think with the same measures as this year instead of half gas,” he believes.
Regarding this, Manuel Franco makes two positive readings: “We have stopped the virus among the vulnerable and that has caused infections and incidence to move towards young people; and the educational community has done very well keeping that population a virgin. for an entire school year. ” However, he asks “not to bother her in summer” and that an exhaustive control of the night, the closed places and the bottles is carried out. That is, “that we take care of them by vaccinating them, but also studying them and tracing their outbreaks.”
“What we have learned from COVID-19 is that it follows the same social patterns as other diseases,” argues Pedro Gullón. “It depends on the social class whether or not you are exposed to diabetes, viral or respiratory diseases. It would have to make us understand that supports should be placed where they are most needed,” he concludes.