Spain's health minister, Carolina Darias, was in Palma last week. | Miquel À. Cañellas


The ministerial straw was being passed around last week and the Balearic health minister, Patricia Gómez, clutched hold of it firmly - and in full view of the nation's health minister no less.

Now, minister (Gómez), about the vaccination rate in the Balearics? The media was once more curious to discover why this rate, as a percentage of the population, was still behind the rest of the country, as it has been for more than a year. Ah well, observed the minister, there is always the foreign population.

While the Balearics can't boast a nationwide vaccination rate leadership, the region can claim bragging rights when it comes to foreigners - the highest percentage in Spain. However, an unfortunate downside of this high level of cosmopolitanism on the islands is that the foreigners are holding the vaccination rate back, as they aren't getting vaccinated. Some of them anyway.

Reasons for the Balearics vaccination rate

This was a new one. Since last January, we have had - the youngest population in the country, the uneven distribution of vaccines to the regions, nurses going on holiday (before they all started going on sick leave because of Omicron), the number of Balearic residents who were getting vaccinated elsewhere, and the number of workers in the tourism sector who were waiting until the season ended. All reasons why the Balearics have been in the vaccination relegation zone, and to which were now added the foreigners.

So, did foreignness explain why the vaccination rate of primary school age children was more than twenty per cent lower than the national figure? No, no, this was because the Balearics started on this age group later than other regions.

Irrelevant and disappearing data

The national minister, Carolina Darias, would have been suitably impressed by her regional counterpart's defence of the vaccination before she, and not for the first time, intimated that the daily data were as good as irrelevant and that the government was working on declaring Covid to be a type of flu, such has been the comparative mildness if not contagion of Omicron.

In keeping with the Darias data doubts, the Balearic health ministry rendered the daily dose almost incomprehensible when around 50,000 cases being monitored by primary care suddenly disappeared. There was a suggestion that the total number, which reached 70,000 last week, had been an error (one to the tune of some 50,000). The other explanation, as the ministry had suggested a couple of weeks ago, was that there wasn't much point in monitoring thousands of people who either had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

Omicron plus or minus

A further data discrepancy appeared to surround BA.2, the stealth-bombing Omicron sub-variant which suddenly seemed to have everyone panicking about borders being closed again. This had not been awarded a World Health Organization letter of the Greek alphabet (the WHO has probably run out of letters anyway), as it was a sub-variant. Will it perhaps become Omicron-plus or Omicron-minus? Or neither?

We learned that, by Thursday, five cases had been detected in Spain, at least one of them in the Balearics. Which was slightly odd, as Son Espases had said earlier in the week that they had come across at least ten. Maybe this was due to BA.2's stealth, which makes it more difficult to accurately detect.

Total recovery

Another variant or sub-variant causing a virus seventh wave and disruption was the last thing that Iago Negueruela, or anyone for that matter, would have wished for. While Omicron has subdued first-quarter prospects, the minister - donning his tourism ministry hat - spoke confidently of a total recovery of the islands' tourism this year. He then went a step further. Economic model ministry hat in place, Iago was talking of total economic recovery in 2022. And there wasn't a straw in sight being clutched.

The two - tourism and total economy - are of course pretty much the same thing, but the minister can't be heard to be saying this, even if his plans for new tourism legislation appear to indeed have the whole economy in mind, given the scope envisaged for "circularity".

Hoteliers and others were complaining that Iago hadn't shown them the small print of the legislation, to which he responded that they all knew full well what the main elements of the law were. In any event, poring over every last word of legislative text tends to happen after a bill is presented, not before.

Keeping measures in place

While the data were suggesting that the sixth wave of the virus was losing strength, the minister, now more in his government spokesperson mode, was reminding everyone that infections were still rampant.

From elsewhere in Spain, such as Catalonia, were coming increased doubts as to the need for the Covid passport. How effective was it proving to be? Iago was quick to quell any of that sort of talk in the Balearics. The high court had, after all, only just approved an extension until the end of February. A mechanism for protecting people, the passport for bars, etc. had produced good results and will, for now, be maintained. The minister had spoken.

And if anyone had been anticipating that his superiors in the Spanish government were about to loosen the Covid measures, Carolina Darias insisted that the mask-wearing obligation had to remain for the time being. Moreover, the seven-day quarantine rule was to stay in place for Covid positives. One regional health minister, probably Madrid's, had raised the possibility of a reduction to four or five days. But there had been only the one.