THE coronavirus pandemic now affects almost all corners of the world. It has quickly travelled west, from its birthplace in China, to Europe, hitting Italy and Spain the hardest, but even crossing the Atlantic Ocean to reach the United States. However, Spain has become one of the most affected countries in Europe with an ever-increasing death toll and rate of infection. The question on everyone’s mind: how did we reach this point?
Figures relating to the coronavirus crisis in Spain keep reaching dramatic heights, as the country has now become one of the global hotspots of the pandemic.
Spain has had the opportunity to witness what happened in China, Iran, and even its European neighbour, Italy, weeks before things started to get bad on national soil. Proximity is an invalid excuse, as Italy shares borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, countries which are all coping much better in their attempts to contain the virus.
On February 9, the Director of the Centre for Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Simon, dismissed the gravity of the situation as a distant dilemma which would only provoke ‘a handful of cases’ in Spain.
In a matter of weeks, the virus had already claimed hundreds of deaths. The number of deaths in Spain as a result of this virus (4,089 at the time of writing), has already surpassed figures recorded in Iran and China.
The mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, claims that “the bomb” which set off the coronavirus contagion began, on February 19, when 2,500 Valencia football fans congregated with 40,000 Italian Atalanta supporters, at a Champions League game in Bergamo. The first proportion cases and illnesses were composed of Valencia players, sports journalists, and fans who attended the match.
A possibility for the rapid spread of infection in Spain may also be attuned to their cultural lifestyle, as the warm temperatures in the months of February and early March invited Spanish residents to take to the streets and do what they do best, socialise, chat, and embrace each other with kisses and hugs.
A few days before the country officiated the lockdown, there were still massive events being held, including conferences, sports events, and the International Women’s Day March, where 120,000 people came together to march on the streets of Madrid. Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s Prime Minister, is already being investigated for authorising the parade as well as another 76 manifestations that took place.
Many people in Spain are criticising Sanchez’s late response to the threat of the coronavirus. From the very start, the country was lacking critical medical and sanitary equipment, such as ventilators, face masks and protective clothing. This aspect of the pandemic has already been reflected in figures, as a total of 14 per cent of all positive cases in Spain are medical professionals who have tested positive due to the lack of safety measures when treating patients.
Although Spain has a great social security care system, since the financial crisis, the country has had to withstand a decade of cuts and austerity. Spain only possess a third of the hospital beds per capita when compared to countries like Germany or Austria, hence the near collapse of the medical system and over-saturation of hospitals. However, hospitals in Spain still have more beds than in countries like the US or the UK, two countries which are both beginning to feel the burden and weight of this pandemic.
Furthermore, when enforcing the government’s emergency powers, Sanchez still took more than 24 hours to put these regulations into place. By this time, most of Madrid had fled to other areas of the country to their second homes, bringing with them the virus and dispersing it across the nation. Closing schools in Madrid first gave many residents the impression this pandemic could be taken as a holiday and the government was forced to close all bars, parks and beaches.
A combination of all these factors has led us to the situation today. Madrid hopes that the curve will flatten soon, as Spain approaches two weeks under lockdown. However, as Sanchez has said before, “the worst is yet to come” both from a medical and economic perspective. Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic, and the economic standstill it has created, will deliver a heavy blow to all aspects of Spain’s recovery post-coronavirus crisis.