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Why has Spain been hit so hard by the coronavirus pandemic?

April 26, 2020

BARCELONA: In Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries in the pandemic, the coronavirus spread quickly and widely without being detected, especially among the elderly, experts told AFP.

While they stressed it was too early to carry out a detailed analysis, the experts pointed to the country´s sociable lifestyle and close ties between young and older family members as significant factors in the virus´s spread.

While Spain has the world´s highest coronavirus death toll per capita after Belgium, its mortality rate -- the percentage of infected patients who die -- stands at 10.4 percent, below other hard-hit nations like Italy, France and Britain.

"The problem here is the size of the epidemic, the great quantity of infections which we had at the epidemic peak," said Fernando Rodriguez, a public health professor at Madrid´s Autonomous University.

Only the United States has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than Spain, although national variations depend greatly on the number of tests that are carried out.

A study carried out by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia estimated that more than two million of Spain´s 47 million people are infected.

The virus "circulated under the radar a lot" before the government ordered a near total nationwide lockdown on March 14, said the head of epidemiology at Barcelona´s Hospital Clinic, Antoni Trilla.

Unusually warm weather helped spread the virus.

"The weather was fantastic during the last weeks of February and the first week of March and people were out on the streets, very close to one another," said Rodriguez.

This sped up the spread of the virus and "in very little time there was community transmission," he added.

Lifestyle could also have played a role in a country where people spend a lot of time outside in groups eating out, having drinks, attending religious processions, protesting or just going for a walk.

In Spain, as in Italy, "people hug and touch each other a lot, here people are constantly kissing, even at work," said Ildefonso Hernandez, a professor of public health at the Miguel Hernandez University in Alicante.

In addition, Spain has the most people living in flats of any European Union country, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat.

"Our cities are built vertically, there is a lot of density and this can also facilitate the transmission of the epidemic," Rodriguez said.