UPDATE 1-Spanish government will limit the retail price of COVID antigen testing

(Added Pfizer antiviral purchase, details on Sanchez interview)

MADRID, January 10 (Reuters) – The Spanish government is working on rules to limit the retail price of COVID antigen testing, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday, after shortages were reported at many pharmacies across the country last month.

The higher price of antigen testing in Spain during the outbreak of the Omicron coronavirus variant and the scarcity of testing in pharmacies have sparked protests from opposition politicians and consumer groups, many of them ask that their sale be authorized in supermarkets.

“The debate we had before and during the Christmas season was the provision of testing, there was a bottleneck,” Sanchez said in an interview with Cadena SER radio station. “Now we are going to take control of the testing prices.”

The nationwide infection rate, measured over the past 14 days, hit a new record of 2,723 cases per 100,000 people on Friday, an increase of more than 10 since early December. The intensive care occupancy rate reached 22.06%, down from 8% a month ago, but still less than half of the peak of 43% recorded a year ago.

It may be time to use different metrics to track the pandemic, Sanchez said, citing the decrease in the lethality of COVID-19. He confirmed a report from El Pais newspaper that authorities were planning to monitor the pandemic the same way they track the flu, without recording every case or testing all symptomatic people.

Spain will purchase 344,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill in January, Sanchez also announced on Monday.

Paxlovid, for adults who have a mild to moderate infection and who are at high risk of their disease getting worse, is most effective when taken during the early stages of COVID-19, before any possible hospitalization. (Reporting by Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo; editing by Clara-Laeila Laudette, Ed Osmond and Tomasz Janowski)

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