May, the month we thought Covid-19 was over

After a few complicated months on a global scale, mainly April, when the absolute peak of almost 23 million new cases was reached, in May the world curve finally bent, in part because of the advances in vaccination in many parts of the world, as shown in the map below. However, some doubts arose that will be present in the coming months. The first, the ability or not of existing vaccines to deal with the various variants of Covid in many countries (Brazilian, South African, Indian, Vietnamese), judging by the rebound in many countries with a significant percentage of vaccinated, with at least one dose.

This is the case of the United Kingdom, Chile or Russia. And, on the other hand, the rapid incidence of the virus, or one of its variants, in Asian countries that had been very successful in fighting the pandemic, such as Japan or Vietnam. These countries in Asia and Oceania are practically “virgin” for the spread of the virus, since they have a very low level of seroprevalence, since hardly anyone has passed the disease. For this reason, until a complete vaccination process is completed, they will be the last countries to open up abroad and until that moment it will not be possible to speak of a complete recovery of normality.

Percentage of vaccinated in the world (with at least one dose).

May balance

As we usually do when a month has been completed, in this case May, in Table 1 I present the new cases of Covid throughout the world and in several relevant countries or regions. As always, I use the color red to indicate those countries that have worsened in the month in question, green for those that have improved it and black for those that have not suffered significant variations.

* Without Russia and Turkey.  Source: own elaboration from Worldometers.org.

* Without Russia and Turkey. Source: own elaboration from Worldometers.org.

It is striking that the green color clearly dominates the table, although there are significant exceptions, some worrying. In the world as a whole, 19.5 million new cases were registered, an improvement of 3 million compared to the previous month, when a record was reached in the pandemic. We can almost assure that a new high will not be recorded again, and that everything will go down from this month. But we cannot forget that May was the third worst month of the pandemic, after April and December, and that there is still a long way to go to return to the levels of a year ago, June 2020, the month in which the world’s total “barely” registered 4.4 million new cases.

Beyond that general green color in the world during May, it should be noted some relevant exceptions. Two of them on the European continent. The United Kingdom and Russia, although they have not significantly worsened the April records, they have not improved them either, in contrast to the rest of the large European countries. Thus, France has cut its cases to less than half, as has Italy, and the whole of the continent. Spain, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Norway and Finland have also improved, although at a somewhat slower rate. Turkey has cut them to a third, and Poland has cut the number of new cases to almost a sixth from April, one of the most significant advances on the planet.

Why is developments in the UK particularly worrisome? For two reasons, the first because it has a high level of vaccination, as reflected in the initial map, with 61% of the population having at least one dose of the vaccine administered. And secondly, because it has been a country that has been ahead of the rest of the European countries in the second part of the pandemic. He lived his “horrible month” in January, while France, Germany and Italy did so in March and April. Later on we will comment in more detail on this uneven evolution of European countries, something that is relevant for Spain in the face of the summer tourist season.

In the United States and Canada, there have been important advances, thanks to the vaccination process, and they have cut their cases registered in April by half. In Latin America the picture has been mixed. Mexico has seen a spectacular improvement, dropping below 100,000 cases a month for the first time since May 2020. Other Latin American countries have not done so well. Colombia and Argentina have registered records in the pandemic and Brazil and Chile, although they have improved, have done so very moderately.

The evolution of Chile is worrying, which has a high level of vaccination and, despite this, is already immersed in a fourth wave. The most striking of the Table, however, is in Asia. The explosion of cases in India, with more than 9 million new cases in May, marked the global data for the month. In two months (May and April) India has had more cases than in the rest of the pandemic, with 16 million out of a total of 28. The Indian variant or “Delta” variant, in addition to the damage caused in that subcontinent, has been It has become the main factor of concern in Europe, due to its transmission in the United Kingdom and the doubts about the effectiveness of a single dose of vaccines to cope with it.

Fortunately, the evolution of the first days of June in India seems to be more reassuring. In Japan they have not had a good month of May either. With 158,000 new cases, it has broken its January record and has quadrupled the cases registered in March a few weeks before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, games postponed last year, something that had not happened since World War II.

South Korea and China have repeated last month’s records, without significant improvements despite their strict control mechanisms. But especially striking has been the case of Vietnam, one of the most successful countries in managing the pandemic, with just 58 deaths despite having almost 100 million inhabitants and being a neighbor of China, the country where it originated. In May, however, it has registered 4,400 new cases, almost half of everything registered in the whole of the pandemic.

It puts highlights the vulnerability of successful countries, from the Far East and Oceania, which have had little incidence of the virus in the population, so their only option is mass vaccination, something in which they seem to be behind schedule. Their “Covid-0” model has been successful in managing the pandemic and its economic impact, but now they do not seem to have a good exit strategy, since the vaccination rate has not been set as a priority, given that the economic evolution has been very favorable since last summer.

The european turnaround

As I said before, the evolution of the pandemic in Europe has been very uneven. The countries that did the best in April are not the most successful in May, let alone June.

Source: Ministry of Health, Worldometers.org and own elaboration.

Source: Ministry of Health, Worldometers.org and own elaboration.

In the month of May as a whole, the United Kingdom was the one that had the best performance of the five big European countries, as indicated in Chart 2. Spain ranked second and the worst were France and Germany. In the 12 days elapsed in June (for Spain there is only data up to the 11th), there has been a turnaround. The United Kingdom has been overtaking all countries and is already the worst country of the big 5. France is in second place and Spain in third, having overtaken Germany and France, who are now the best. This comparative evolution is relevant because, regardless of the fact that the incidence is falling steadily in Spain, in relative terms the improvement is not as great as in other European countries.

End of alarm state

In Spain the state of alarm was lifted on May 9. The option was risky, since the national average cumulative incidence was around 200 (198.6), within the “high” risk range, and five autonomous communities had an “extreme risk”, an incidence above 250: Aragón (294), Catalonia (251), Madrid (318), Melilla (295), Navarra (296) and the Basque Country (448).

The two measures that allegedly most helped prevent a fourth significant wave, the perimeter confinement and the curfew, were left without effect and without legal protection to be able to be implemented by any regional government.

Source: Ministry of Health and own elaboration.

Source: Ministry of Health and own elaboration.

The rebound scenario, fortunately, has not occurred, as shown in Chart 4. The incidence at 14 days has cut about 90 points, at a rate of 2.6 points per day, although so far in June it has barely done so by 1.3 points. As regards the autonomous communities, a convergence has taken place, as expected, but with interesting exceptions that we will analyze next week.

The advance in vaccination and, possibly, a high level of seroprevalence in some regions, such as Madrid, must be behind this positive evolution. The bad news of the month was the decision of the United Kingdom to keep all Spanish regions within its “yellow” alert level, which forces British tourists to Spain to quarantine for 10 days on their return, in addition to three PCR tests.

Although the decision will be reviewed in two weeks and the Balearic and Canary Islands will probably be left out of this restrictive level, the British decision has shown that not only is it enough to have results that seem satisfactory at a domestic scaleRather, they have to be perceived as such by the tourist-issuing countries.

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