Society 08/05/2021

Catalonia is gaining social life despite the fact that covid has not disappeared

Experts endorse easing of restrictions but urge "exercising judgement" and meeting in the open air

4 min
Ambient on a beach in Barcelona this Saturday, a few hours after the state of alarm has been lifted.

BarcelonaSummer is here and with it, the good weather. The curfew is over and you can go back to having dinner out with friends without having to check the time. The indicators continue to fall little by little and there is a certain euphoria in the street: people need to go out for mental and emotional health and businesses aspire to recover the year after months of losses. However, the pandemic is not over and the gain in social life cannot go from zero to one hundred overnight. Five experts consulted by the ARA ask for a lot of caution and common sense to the population now that the real "new normality" is finally in sight. The virus, they recall, has not disappeared, nor have the hospitalisations or deaths it causes, and warn that a misstep can lengthen the agony in the final stretch.

"The vaccination campaign is progressing -we have 27.1% of the population with the first dose- and the good weather favours outdoor activities", celebrates the researcher of the Computational Biology and Complex Systems Group (Biocom) Clara Prats. However, despite having more factors in favour to avoid the epidemiological outbreak, the biophysicist assures that this is not enough if the responsible attitude of the last year is not maintained. "The pandemic is not over, we still have a few weeks left, let's be clear about that", she insists.

The director of preventive medicine service of the University Hospital of Bellvitge, Cristina Masuet, also remarks that the number of infections in the country is still very high despite the certain tendency to stabilisation. At this point about 1,280 infections are being diagnosed daily and, although this represents 15% fewer cases than a week ago, "containment measures are still needed".

When will we be able to relax or see a change in health recommendations? According to Masuet, when vaccination coverage exceeds 70% and in our cohabitation bubbles there are no elderly or immunocompromised people without immunisation. "If everyone is vaccinated at a get-together, and in each person's bubble as well, we can relax", says the epidemiologist, who recalls that current vaccines can reduce transmissibility but do not eliminate it, since they are not sterilising.

At the moment, vaccines do not lower the curve of contagions, but they do reduce hospitalisations. Above all, they prevent many deaths, about 60% compared to before the vaccination campaign began. Biocom also expects that by the end of May the figure will increase to 80%.

Experts recall that the lifting of restrictions is trying to soften the impact on emotional health and the economy with less radical prevention strategies. "But it would be a serious mistake to think that the pandemic is over. We are getting better, yes, because we are vaccinating, although not as fast as we would like. We must act judiciously", says Teresa Lluch, professor of psychosocial nursing and mental health at the UB School of Nursing. The same opinion is held by Clara Prats, who believes that Catalonia is not ready to relax: "In order to have a normal life, the proportion of vaccinated people will need to increase much more. For the moment we have to maintain a behaviour similar to that of the last few months", says the biophysicist.

Emotional self-control

Lluch appeals to emotional self-control. "It is normal to feel like having dinners with friends and giving hugs. And it is possible to do so, but always with a dose of self-control and self-responsibility", she sums up. This means being very careful not to generate super-contagious environments, such as a dinner of twenty people with several cohabitation bubbles. "This is not right even if you do it in an outdoor space, because the virus circulates, and a lot", she points out. You have to apply common sense and the baggage of everything we have learned in the last year, which is to enjoy a modest social life, avoiding enclosed spaces, with a lot of capacity or without ventilation, and with all the prevention measures: distance, mask and hand hygiene.

"The precautionary principle has to govern us at all times. If we have been very careful for a year, we can hold out for a few more weeks", remarks epidemiologist Cristina Masuet. In any case, the expert admits that emotionally the population needs to regain its freedom and if people want to meet, she recommends doing so in outdoor spaces, mixing as little as possible with other bubbles and, if there are more than two or three, spacing the next meetings as much as possible - a week or ten days - to avoid the spread.

"People's desire to go out and relax is evident, and it will be difficult for everyone to heed the recommendations now that the restrictions are over", says José Ramón Ubieto, a lecturer at the UOC's Psychology Department. He believes that there will be people who will trivialise the epidemiological context and try to return to their "old normal" lives, while others will find it difficult to leave their refuge because the pandemic has meant a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one. "The relaxation is also linked to the magnitude of the tragedy, to the particular experiences of the last year. And there will be some people who will come out suddenly and others who will continue to stay in their bubble", he says.

For the clinical psychologist of the Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili Xavier Clèries, who says he hopes to be wrong this time, human nature makes rational behavior difficult. "People tend to seek pleasure and immediate satisfaction, which favours risky behaviour. When you consider that the restrictions have dragged on for a year, and have cut into our entire social and personal sphere, many people will now be scrambling to make up for lost time. And this could turn into a powder keg", he explains. For Clèries, the messages of caution have to be oriented especially towards the younger population: they are not vaccinated and their emotional factor is much more at the surface than the rest of the population. "As is normal and as it should be", he clarifies.

Another very different thing, says Teresa Lluch, is to ignore the progress made in the last five months. "It is normal that we are all excited. We all want to be free and we are getting closer and closer", she says. On the fact that there may be people who make mistakes, who go too far or are "unsupportive", the psychologist recalls that this would also be "a human response", especially after the "tragic" episode that has been experienced, during which freedoms, leisure time and social contact have been cut off. For Lluch, however, it would be interesting for the population to assume that the most immediate future will not be the recovery of the normality that was left behind in 2019, but the opportunity to start a "new normality".