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The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. First wave: from the first cases to the end of June 2020

Monographs from the National Atlas of Spain. New content

Thematic structure > The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain > Different spatial behaviours > Galicia

Galicia was one of the regions with the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates according to data from the Ministry of Health. This may be explained by multiple factors related to how the pandemic was managed by the authorities as well as to some geographical peculiarities. It is on this last factor that greater emphasis is placed in this section.

There were 2.7 million inhabitants in Galicia as of 1 January 2020, distributed over nearly 30,000 km2. This entails a population density of 91.3 inhabitants/km2. From an administrative point of view, Galicia is divided into four provinces –three on the coast [Lugo, Corunna (A Coruña) and Pontevedra], one inland (Ourense)– and 313 municipalities.

The spatial distribution of the population has traditionally been scattered. In fact, even though half of the human settlements in Spain are to be found in this region, Galicia only accounts for 5.7% of the national population, roughly ten times less. A large percentage of the population lives in human settlements that are not the municipal capital, as shown on the chapter on Population, human settlements and comorbidities (over 20% in the provinces of Lugo and Pontevedra, and even over 70% in some municipalities). It also has a large amount of human settlements per municipality (over 40 on average), what entails a density of over 20 human settlements every 10 km2 in some areas.

Map: COVID-19 cases in Corunna. 2020. Galicia.PDF. More information .
Map: COVID-19 cases in Vigo. 2020. Galicia.PDF. More information.

Most of the population in Galicia is concentrated around the Atlantic Urban Axis, i.e. the corridor around the AP-9 motorway that connects the main urban areas in Galicia with northern Portugal. This Axis is located in the western part of the region, near the coast. Five of the seven most populated towns in Galicia are located on this corridor: Vigo and Corunna (A Coruña), with 300,000 inhabitants each; Santiago de Compostela with roughly 100,000 inhabitants; Pontevedra with 85,000 inhabitants; and Ferrol with 70,000 inhabitants. The other two major towns in Galicia are Lugo and Ourense, both of which have approximately 100,000 inhabitants and are located in the eastern part of the region, away from this corridor. In addition, a small group of medium-sized towns have sprung up in recent decades within the metropolitan area of some of the larger towns, such as Narón, Arteixo, Ames, etc., with around 30,000-40,000 inhabitants each.

The urban system in Galicia is dominated by the Atlantic Urban Axis, which has positive demographic dynamics both from a quantitative perspective (higher fertility rates and positive migratory balances) and from a qualitative point of view (younger population and more dynamic demographic structures). The two main urban areas in the eastern part of the region are the two provincial capitals, Lugo and Ourense, which gather much of the socioeconomic activity in these two provinces. The rest of the territory, particularly rural in nature, is articulated by a group of district capitals that cover large extensions where negative demographic dynamics are observed.

Another important socioeconomic factor in Galicia would be the close ties to the sea. It has over 1,700 km coastline as well as 128 ports –six of which fall under the national government’s jurisdiction, whilst the remaining 122 ports fall under the jurisdiction of the regional administration–. Multiple seafaring activities take place in the region, i.e. fishing activities (offshore, on land, shellfishing, etc.), trading activities, passenger traffic (ferryboats and cruises), nautical tourism and leisure activities.

The patterns described entail various social and economic factors that have significant outcomes on Galicia and help understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.

The maps show the amount of people infected in the region from the start of the epidemic until 30 June 2020. The information was provided by the Regional Health Service of Galicia (Servizio Galego de Saúde). The database holds information on 10,853 COVID-19 cases together with the patients’ addresses. Locating these cases allows to understand the spatial distribution of the impact of the disease and its regional patterns of behaviour.

Data were aggregated by municipality to improve visualisation. The first map, called COVID-19 cases in Galicia, shows the incidence of the pandemic in Galician municipalities. The following maps depict hotspots. The geographical spread of the virus was more significant around the Atlantic Urban Axis, especially in areas close to the main towns. It could therefore be concluded that spatial distribution of the population was a factor that affected the incidence of the pandemic: scattered population and reduced physical contact worked to contain the spread of the virus. In addition, there is a degree of spatial correlation between the total amount of inhabitants in a municipality and the number of cases reported. The areas most affected were those around the towns of Corunna (A Coruña), Vigo, Santiago de Compostela and Ourense, as well as their nearby urban and peri-urban areas. Many of the residential areas and industrial activities are concentrated in these peri-urban areas, which have a great dynamism and high levels of social interaction. Meanwhile, the older and less dynamic population living in rural areas was less exposed to the virus, except in some nursing homes.


Co-authorship of the text in Spanish: José Balsa Barreiro, Rubén C. Lois González, Ángel Miramontes Carballada y Ana Paula Santana Rodrigues. See the list of members engaged

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You can download the complete publication The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. First wave: from the first cases to the end of June 2020 in Libros Digitales del ANE site.