MADRID: Spain detected a second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Tuesday (Nov 30) and expects to confirm another two by the end of the week, while Basque authorities said they planned to declare a health emergency amid a rapidly rising caseload.
In Madrid, a 61-year-old woman who returned to Spain from South Africa via Amsterdam tested positive for the variant first isolated in South Africa that scientists fear may evade vaccines.
A regional health department spokesperson said she had received two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine and had no symptoms.
Spain detected its first case of the variant on Monday in a 51-year-old man who also flew from South Africa via the Netherlands, but was on a different flight.
Health authorities in Catalonia said they were analysing two suspected cases and preliminary results suggested they would also be confirmed as Omicron but definitive confirmation was not expected until Friday.
With a nationwide vaccination rate of nearly 80 per cent, Spain had until recently appeared to have escaped the wave of contagion sweeping Europe that has pushed governments to bring back highly restrictive measures including home confinement in Austria.
But infection accelerated through November, with the two-week incidence reaching 208.5 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, rising more than fourfold in a month.
With an infection rate of more than 480 cases per 100,000 people, the Basque region is among the worst affected.
The regional government said it would propose a health emergency, a legal tool that would allow for capacity limits in indoor spaces and the closure of nightlife.
Basque authorities also said they would ask the central government to bring back mandatory facemasks outdoors, a requirement that Spain dropped in June.