MADRID, December 28 (Reuters) – Demand for free COVID-19 test kits provided by the Madrid regional government far exceeded supply on Tuesday, with long queues outside pharmacies as infections with the Nationwide continued to climb amid the rapid expansion of the Omicron variant.

The coronavirus infection rate in Spain has reached a new record, rising to 1,360 cases per 100,000 people, measured in the previous 14 days, against 1,206 cases reported on Monday, a five-fold increase since early December, according to data from the Ministry of Health. Read more

About 250 new deaths in the past seven days were reported on Tuesday, bringing the total to 89,253.

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But hospitals remained under far less strain than in previous waves of the pandemic, as the government reported that 80% of the population over 60 had received a booster dose of the vaccine.

Madrid pharmacist Cristina Sanchez said she only received 20 test kits to distribute on Tuesday as part of a plan to boost supply after pharmacies started running out of paid tests, but there are already had over 30 people waiting outside when it opened.

As the first few people in line tend to take multiple tests each, most have to go home empty-handed or buy $ 9 kits, which were also selling fast.

“People who are waiting outside, who are cold, who have been waiting for a long time, we can no longer give them to them,” she told Reuters in her pharmacy on the outskirts of Madrid.

Taxi driver Miguel Jesus Arroyo was one of the lucky few to get tested.

“You have to get up early, because if you don’t come soon, it’s all over in a flash,” he said.

Italy, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, has also reported an increase in infections and long queues have developed at some drive-thru test centers as many chemists have said they are inundated with test requests. Read more

Luca Zaia, the head of the northeastern Veneto region which has been hit hard by the increase in the number of cases, said he feared the test kits would run out soon and called on the government to ‘drop the testing requirements in certain situations.

“We cannot let the testing system collapse,” he said.

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Written by Nathan Allen Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome and Joan Faus in Barcelona Editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.