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MADRID: Spain on Monday ended a requirement that people with mild cases of Covid-19 self-isolate as part of a shift towards treating the virus as an endemic illness like flu. The country, one of the hardest hit in Europe by the pandemic when it first took hold in March 2020, said the change was justified given its low Covid-19 infection rate and high vaccination levels.

The new strategy will focus attention on “vulnerable people” and serious cases of Covid, said a health ministry statement. This will “imply accepting a certain level of transmission” of Covid “among vaccinated and young people”, it added.

In addition to dropping the quarantine requirement, the government has stopped testing people with symptoms or who were in close contact with an infected person. From now, testing will focus on vulnerable people, such as those over 60, caregivers, pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised.

People with mild cases of Covid-19 are nevertheless required to be “cautious” by wearing face masks, still mandatory in public indoor spaces, and by limiting their contact with others. The government in mid-March stopped publishing daily figures on the number of new infections and deaths, releasing them instead twice a week.

The Spanish government in January said it was time to change how it tracked Covid’s evolution and instead use a method similar to that for tracking flu, because its lethality has fallen. That would imply treating the virus as an “endemic illness”, rather than a pandemic.

Spain has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 vaccination rates, with 92.4 percent of those over the age of 12 fully immunised against the virus. Like other nations, Spain in December experienced a spike in cases due to the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant. At one point it was recording nearly 180,000 new daily cases, which further boosted the population’s natural immunity against the virus.

The number of deaths and hospitalisations, however, were much lower than during previous waves. Covid infections have been rising in recent weeks. On Friday, Spain reported 461 infections per 100,000 people, compared to a record of 3,397 on January 17.

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