Many doubts and few resources as the lockdown is lifted
Without mass testing, masks for everybody and isolation facilities for asymptomatic carriers, there is a risk of a major new outbreak
Midnight on Thursday saw the end of the total lockdown ordered by PM Pedro Sánchez on March 30. Therefore, after a most peculiar Easter bank holiday, thousands of workers employed in non-essential sectors will cease to enjoy their paid leave, which they will be expected to make up for. Next Monday they will be going back to work unless they are able to telework, their employer has filed for a suspension of their contract or they work in a sector that has been shut down entirely due to the state of emergency (now extended through April 26). Monday is a public holiday in Catalonia, but in the rest of Spain we will likely see the underground packed with commuters and a surge in road traffic. Catalonia will follow suit on Tuesday. Unless effective social distancing measures are put in place, we could see the number of COVID-19 cases soar.
During Thursday’s parliamentary session —where the extended state of emergency was approved— PM Sánchez called on people not to let their guard down and announced that fresh sanitation and social distancing measures would be brought in. However, the exact implications of that remain unclear. At present A&E rooms are still full —even though these facilities have been expanded—, homes for the elderly are still in a state of emergency and not all of them have been issued the required personal safety equipment. Furthermore —and this is a major issue—, health care providers have exhausted their strength, physically and emotionally. Every day there are over 600 fatalities in Spain as a whole and the number of cases keeps growing on a daily basis. Indeed the figures today are better than they were two weeks ago, but it hasn’t stopped. Pharmacies are out of face masks —even though the Catalan authorities have pledged a massive delivery next Tuesday— and there is a shortage of testing kits, barely enough to test staff in basic services.
In the current state of affairs, it is hard to believe that extending the total lockdown a little longer would be a bad idea, certainly until the situation is under control and clear safety instructions can be given to the general public and they can be told how they should go about their daily lives. We may have to wait until Saturday —or perhaps even Sunday— before we can find out the exact restrictions that will be imposed on workers from now on. Let’s hope this time we will be spared the improvisation that we witnessed when the lockdown was first ordered. In all truth, the communication policy and the actions taken by the governments thus far do not inspire much confidence. The Catalan government and several political parties, including JxCat, ERC, Més País and the BNG, have demanded an extension of the full lockdown. So far the Spanish government have opposed the idea claiming that it might be months before a vaccine is available and full safety can be guaranteed. They fear that if the pandemic brings the Spanish economy to a prolonged standstill, we would suffer consequences never seen before.
Nevertheless, these days we have seen that there isn’t a single answer to the question of what must be done. Epidemiologists themselves disagree on this point. Undoubtedly, many issues must be taken into consideration. Yet we will need to be very prudent before the general public is allowed to move freely again, as well as greater clarity in the information given to people and a better working relationship between the various administrations.