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Coronavirus COVID-19

"The Ministry of Health's goal is to increase coronavirus diagnostic testing as much as possible for the people with symptoms", says Salvador Illa

Thursday 2 April 2020

He explained that "we have received one million rapid tests this week with a sensitivity rate of 80% when the person has been infected for seven days or more. According to the analyses conducted by the Carlos III Health Institute, the sensitivity rate stands at 64% in patients who began showing symptoms more recently".

These rapid tests allow testing to be done in high prevalence locations where there is a high likelihood of contagion, such as hospitals or care homes, and to identify which people have been infected if they give a positive result. If the result is negative, they will need a PCR test. "The quick tests detect a significant number of positives but those who show negative require a PCR test to rule out the possibility of a false negative", explained the Spanish minister.

Salvador Illa said that "the Carlos III Health Institute has been working since the outbreak of this pandemic with all Spanish PCR companies to jointly validate the techniques and this has enabled healthcare centres to be conducting between 15,000 and 20,000 tests per day in Spain".

He went on to add that "this figure puts us among the countries performing the most tests and we continue to work on increasing our domestic production capacity so that Spain can eventually supply itself with this material if necessary".

In fact, the Carlos III Health Institute officially approved four companies in January so they could perform PCR tests with those that are already doing so in order to activate their production.

Respirators

Salvador Illa announced that 50 respirators will be received from the Government of Germany in the next few hours and that more than 40 respirators will arrive from the company Draeger today. On Friday, the company Hersill in Móstoles will start producing respirators at an industrial level up to a total of 5,000 units over the coming weeks.

Similarly, he stressed that "all indications are that SEAT, with scientific support from the Hospital Clínic i Can Ruti, will be able to start mass production of some 300 respirators per day in the coming hours, which it has produced and designed itself".

Professional reinforcements

The Spanish minister also highlighted the human resources measures taken to reinforce professional workforces. He specifically mentioned the various measures included in the Ministerial Order approved on 27 March aimed at increasing the options for hiring healthcare professionals.

These options consist of contract extensions for residents in their final year of training, who will be entitled to additional remuneration depending on the role performed; the suspension of rotations for residents so they can provide services in units needing extra support; and exceptional hiring measures for medical and non-medical staff. This order expands on the one approved on 15 March, which already provided for the hiring of 35,000 professionals and 17,000 final year students for support tasks.

This new measure enables the various regional governments to hire a total of 17,560 advanced technicians in Auxiliary Nursing Care, second year students on Intermediate Vocational Training healthcare courses who have completed their studies and are awaiting the issue of their qualification. It also includes over 9,500 professionals with various specialised healthcare training qualifications who took exams this year for accessing a position somewhere as resident, provided they obtained above the minimum grade in the year.

Salvador Illa said that "these latter professionals, who could temporarily take up their position in the coming months after the administrative selection process has been completed, can be hired from today for a temporary period of three months, which can be extended in additional three-month periods. Their temporary employment will come to an end once their position has been officially given to them".

Furthermore, measures have also been adopted to strengthen workforces at elderly care homes with exceptional criteria for the hiring or re-hiring of personnel. "We have already approved two orders and one protocol in total, which underlines our concern for the provision of social services and, in particular, those that look after a vulnerable group in society such as our elderly", stressed the Spanish minister.

Increased production capacity

A total of 16,554,815 masks, 16,373,100 nitrile gloves, 92,624 disposable and waterproof gowns, 83,938 suits, 135,191 safety goggles, 142,200 hydroalcoholic solutions and 408,371 other materials, such as boots, aprons, sleeve covers, caps, etc. have already been distributed. Additional consignments of a significant size are expected to arrive over the coming days, which will also be distributed.

Besides this procurement, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Industry have been working to increase domestic production capacity so that a strategic reserve of key products can be stockpiled. The three basic areas in this regard are: supporting Spanish manufacturers of essential products to increase their production capacity; reorganising businesses in related sectors; and increasing technological resources by developing new capabilities.

In terms of protective equipment, support has been provided to increase production from various national manufacturers that were already producing these products and to reorganise other manufacturers in related sectors. In terms of the assisted breathing equipment, efforts are being made alongside the two domestic manufacturers so they can multiply their production capacity five-fold in the very near future. Furthermore, a number of strong engineering teams are working on the innovative development of products in Catalonia and Andalusia.

Ongoing research

The Ministry of Health is also developing various lines to foster and support research efforts on the coronavirus, which will enable their results to be applied to patients as soon as possible. Work is being done nationally and internationally on the research of medicines via the Spanish Medicines and Healthcare Product Agency, both new medicines and others already approved for different uses that could be effective at various stages of the infection.

To date, 13 clinical trials have been approved and a further 98 applications are being assessed. "One of those that was approved this week, promoted by the Ministry of Health under the National AIDS Plan, will assess the effectiveness of preventing coronavirus contagion with antiretroviral drugs that are used to treat HIV", said Salvador Illa. Furthermore, Spain has been working since 1 April with 40 hospitals and nine regional governments on the international solidarity study promoted by the World Health Organisation.

He went on to add that, "together with the Ministry of Science and through the Carlos III Health Institute, we are working to urgently foster, coordinate and fund the research of new treatments". More specifically, two new projects were funded this week that seek to find a treatment in early stages to prevent patients from getting worse and needing mechanical ventilation. "Furthermore, the study to measure the effectiveness and safety of treating patients with plasma taken from patients who have recovered from the disease is very hopeful", said the Spanish minister.

Non official translation