Spanish PM Wants to Treat COVID as 'Endemic Illness,' Move to Tracking It Like the Flu

The prime minister of Spain is hoping for the current COVID-19 pandemic to transition into an endemic.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez revealed that he wants European officials to reclassify the current pandemic as an "endemic illness" due to falling death rates attributed to the coronavirus. Furthermore, he is requesting that a flu-like monitoring system replace the much more detailed pandemic tracking system that the country currently has.

"I believe that we have the conditions for, with precaution, slowly, opening the debate at the technical level and at the level of health professionals," explained Sánchez during a radio interview on Monday, "but also at the European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now."

News of the reduced tracking system was first speculated on by El País, Spain's most popular newspaper. In the report published on Monday, the paper said that a new monitoring system was already being proposed and drafted. Sánchez directly confirmed these reports, as well as how the monitoring system would work.

​​"Health officials have been working for months on adapting what is known as influenza sentinel surveillance," wrote El País writers Pablo Linde, Elisa Silió and Ivanna Vallespín. "Under the new system, there will be no more reporting of every single diagnosed infection, nor will tests be carried out at the slightest symptom. The coronavirus will be monitored just like any other respiratory illness."

Barcelona COVID Protocols
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez hopes that European officials will allow him to classify the current COVID-19 pandemic as an "endemic illness." Above, people gather and have a drink at Plaça de la Universitat square in Barcelona on the night of December 23, 2021. Photo by Angel Garcia/AFP via Getty Images

Citing epidemiology officials, El País said that the plan would be for a network of carefully chosen health facilities and professionals to report, in a survey-like system similar to the one used across Europe for tracking influenza, the evolution of COVID-19 outbreaks—what technically is called "sentinel surveillance" rather than the current method of "universal surveillance."

Health Minister Carolina Darias has discussed the proposal with some of her counterparts in the European Union, Sánchez said without elaborating.

The prime minister also announced that Spain is purchasing this month 344,000 pills of a COVID-19 antiviral drug developed by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Despite a successful vaccination rollout, Spain is grappling with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections.

Some 8 million primary- and secondary-level students were resuming classes Monday after a long Christmas and New Year break. Authorities have shortened isolation periods and softened the requirements for quarantining entire classrooms when outbreaks happen, to avoid major disruptions in schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pedro Sánchez
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez revealed a new plan that could result in the COVID-19 pandemic being recorded as an "endemic illness." Above, Sánchez delivers a speech during an end-of-year news conference at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid on December 29, 2021. Photo by Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images