SO far Italy’s de-escalation strategy has been limited to opening a handful of productive activities dependent on region. Nationwide, the quarantine remains in place until May 4.
For weeks, Italy has been the mirror into the future for Spain to navigate its strategy against the coronavirus crisis. As the first major focus of the pandemic on European soil, the Italian government was a pioneer in its drastic measures of containment. Since then, Spain has been living in the shadows of the actions of its neighbouring country, learning from both its successes and its failures.
Practically a week after Italy, Spain implemented the closing of schools, the prohibition of public events and the decreed widespread isolation, or ‘lockdown.’ Spain is now entering uncharted territory with its decision to allow non-essential industries to return to work, albeit under strict security measures. Not only has it chosen to do this before Italy, but also before a great majority of European countries.
After two weeks of hibernation, hundreds and thousands of non-essential activity workers (at least 300,000 in Madrid) have been authorised to return to their jobs, despite warnings from the WHO and the European Union about the risks that early relaxation measures could imply.
This measure has been implemented at the time in which Spain has recorded its lowest number of infections for the last three weeks, and a drastic reduction in death tolls from 900 to 517 daily deaths. Although Spain’s curve increased faster than Italy’s, it has also flattened faster.
Experts have warned that inevitably, any relaxation in quarantine measures will lead to an increase in the number of cases. “No matter how many security measures are taken, a greater mobility of people means that there will be more contact and an increased probability of contagion,” explains Estanislao Nistal Villan, a professor of microbiology at CEU. He adds, “what masks and protective measures do is reduce the risk, just as a seatbelt will reduce risk of injury when driving, but there is not complete protection from becoming infected.”
To avoid an uncontrollable boom in infections, the Executive is determined to keep enforcing the rules of social distancing, which in Spain are amongst the strictest in Europe, as walking with children or going for runs in other countries is allowed.
Sánchez has hinted that the government is studying a “progressive and very cautious” relaxation of measures – which would begin precisely with children and athletes. But the president has avoided giving dates as there is still about 10 days left until the current extension of the State of Alarm (April 26) expires, which will probably lead him to asking for another extension until May 10.
Although the two have suffered similar trajectories, Spain and Italy are now diverging in their strategies. Economic revival in Italy has been limited to the reopening of a few shops this week – bookstores, stationeries, children’s clothing stores – and a handful of activities in select regions – such as forest management, computer manufacturing, hydraulic works or garden maintenance. On a national level, however, quarantine will continue until May 4. All non-essential businesses remain closed and the school year is already lost.