The president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, has convened a conference of regional presidents three days before Christmas in the midst of an escalation of contagions and hospitalizations caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The meeting, which should have happened earlier as the situation has been critical for days, turned out to be a mere mockery of co-governance: Sánchez only informed his regional counterparts of the decision to make it compulsory to wear masks outdoors in towns and cities (not in the countryside nor on the beach) and of the details of a plan to accelerate vaccination, which had not been discussed beforehand with regional governments. If co-governance is to take measures in a consensual manner, this Wednesday has been just the opposite. In these circumstances, the unease expressed by Catalan president Pere Aragonès and Basque president Iñigo Urkullu is perfectly understandable.
But, in addition, the most important measure announced, the compulsory wearing of masks, has been questioned by experts, who do not see it as a really effective way to stop the transmission of the virus. It can help to raise awareness among the population and prevent contagion in crowds, but it is not a panacea. As Aragonès and Urkullu have also pointed out, Sánchez has fallen short, he has not had the courage to champion the necessary tough, and therefore unpopular, restrictions in the run up to Christmas. Between Catalonia and Madrid, the two extremes when it comes to combating the pandemic, Sánchez has placed himself closer to Madrid's president. He seems ro be more afraid of unpopularity than the virus.
The current chaos, moreover, is especially incomprehensible when we have been living through a pandemic for almost two years now. It is incomprehensible, for example, that after the Constitutional Court overturned the state of alarm, no ad hoc legislation was passed giving regional governments truly effective tools to curb the spread of the virus. The Sánchez government has not dared address this issue either and has delegated the function of unifying judicial doctrine to the Supreme Court, which fortunately has acted with more common sense than the Constitutional Court. The right-wing opposition is right when it claims that the Spanish president is shirking his responsibilities. It is one thing to delegate to regional governments and quite another not to dare to take any unpopular measures and hope that the Omicron variant will be less deadly.
After registering lower infection rates, some countries have opted for preventive containment, as is the case of the Netherlands. As already happened on other occasions, not anticipating the virus can be catastrophic, also for the economy these lukewarm measures intend to defend. Of course, restrictions must be accompanied by aid plans, because otherwise a whole sector, the hotel and catering industry, would be abandoned to its fate. Omicron has shattered the hopes of many families and businesses to be able to have a normal Christmas, with the economy in full swing. The same is happening to everyone. Not accepting it, as Sánchez seems to be doing, and not taking decisions out of fear is frivolous.