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Catalonia cracks down on nightlife again as COVID cases rocket

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By AP
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FILE: A group of people wearing face masks walk on the street In Fuengirola, near Malaga, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020
FILE: A group of people wearing face masks walk on the street In Fuengirola, near Malaga, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020   -   Copyright  Jesus Merida/AP
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Following in the footsteps of other parts of Spain, Catalonia has reimposed restrictions on nightlife due to a huge surge in coronavirus cases in the region.

The authorities decided on Tuesday to close nightclubs and other nighttime entertainment venues from this weekend, just weeks after opening them up again.

That is due to an “exponential” increase in COVID-19 cases, mainly among young people, who as of yet have not been prioritised for vaccinations.

Faced with soaring numbers of new infections, some Spanish regions has already reinstated curbs on nightlife.

Fearing that the surging contagion could strain health care services as stressed employees try to go on summer holidays, health officials in several parts of the country are also rushing to get COVID-19 vaccine shots to people under 30.

Spain's strict vaccination rollout has so far focused on older, more vulnerable groups, leaving the vaccination of teenagers and people in their 20s for the summer.

So far, 40% of Spain's 47 million people have been fully vaccinated, one of the highest levels in Europe, but that falls to one in ten vaccinated in the 20-29 age group and a meagre 0.7% for those under 20.

“We have to thank the youth for the extra, longer effort that we have demanded from them, as they are only starting to get vaccinated now,” said Fernando Simón, who coordinates the country's response to health emergencies.

Simón said on Monday there's a danger that infections among young people spread to vulnerable older groups like those waiting for a second vaccine dose or people not vaccinated at all.

“We are in a complicated situation regarding transmission and we hope that this doesn't turn into a grave situation at hospitals," he said.

The 14-day contagion rate on Monday among those 20 to 29 was more than three times the national average of 204 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Simón said the delta virus variant that has been blamed for rising infections in other countries like Portugal and Britain is not yet the main driver of new confirmed cases in Spain.

New infections have also spread among Spanish teenagers as a result of trips and parties to celebrate the end of the school year.

Thousands have been forced to go into isolation nationwide after more than 1,000 infections were tied to student trips to Spain's Mallorca islands. At least 700 others have tested positive in mass screenings in the northern Navarra region among students who went to a beach resort last month.

Authorities in Navarra are seeing more than 500 new infections a day, a level not reached since the country's second virus resurgence in October. In response, they announced that bars and nightclubs will go back to closing at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.

Nightlife will be completely shut down in at least 16 towns in the northern Cantabria region, which leads the nation's infection tallies.

In Catalonia, people over 16 have now been invited to receive their virus shots after a seven-fold increase of infections in the past two weeks, reaching more than 3,000 new confirmed cases in the past few days.

The system for booking a vaccine appointment has been overwhelmed with demand since the younger age group was included in those who could book one.

The rebound in cases has so far led to comparatively lower hospital admissions than previous surges because COVID-19 leads to fewer complications among young people, but health care centres and contagion contact tracers are struggling to handle an overload of cases.

A federation of nightlife business owners has issued a statement saying that their industry is being used as a “scapegoat” for the new surge in infections and urged authorities instead to crack down on illegal booze parties.