Spain battens down to six-month state of emergency, but will it be enough?

By - World Healthcare Journal

Spain battens down to six-month state of emergency, but will it be enough?

The Spanish government has imposed a new state of emergency (Oct 25) - the second in just under eight months - in a desperate attempt to bring the dreaded second Covid-19 wave under control.  However, many are doubtful the strategy will work in breaking the back of the pandemic which has killed more than 35,000 since it first hit the country in early 2020.

The new measures include an overnight curfew, curbs on meetings, cinemas, shops and supermarket opening hours, quarantine for most regions, and a plethora of other moves to beat the virus which has so far infected more than 1,200,000 people in Spain, with the figure still climbing at the rate of several thousands a day.

However, unlike the previous state of emergency in March which embraced an all-encompassing battery of measures - including an hermetic nation-wide lockdown -, the newly imposed state of emergency is laxer allowing for greater mobility and access to bars and restaurants, albeit with limited opening times and a nation-wide curfew of midnight to 6 in the morning.

It also allows authorities in Spain’s 17 regional communities a greater say in how strict they deem some measures should be employed in their areas.

It’s these less stringent restrictions that are of concern to the health experts. They see the pandemic dipping deep into 2021 with little hope of an effective vaccine being developed in time to mitigate the spread.

The medics on the front line have already expressed their concerns with a nation-wide strike - the first doctor strike in 25 years - demanding more resources in the face of the pandemic which has killed at least 63 health workers in Spain.

“What we were facing in March was an endless torrent,” Dr Carlos Bibiano Guillen, the head emergency doctor in the Infanta Leonor hospital in Madrid told the El Pais newspaper. “Now it’s like lava. Slow-moving but constant. ”   

Even more alarming are the latest figures showing intensive care units (ICU) all over Spain filling up with Covid-19 patients. According to government data, between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of all ICU beds have been allocated to patients with the virus.

And some of Spain’s 17 regions are in even worse shape. Madrid region’s statistics along with those of Catalonia and 4 others place the percentage of Covid occupancy of ICUs closer to an unsustainable 40 per cent.

According to Dr Fernando Simon who heads up the Spanish Health Alert and Emergency Coordination Center (CCAES), the body charged with coordinating a multi-level response to the pandemic, “some of our hospitals are in a critical situation,” adding that the pandemic was affecting hospitals’ capability to attend to patients with other illnesses.

The second wave was first detected at the beginning of August, weeks after a remission in infections and deaths from the virus was heralded as the end of the nightmare. Despite warnings from doctors that the pandemic was far from over, restrictions were lifted and the curve that had almost flattened out at the end of May started climbing at the beginning of August. It went on to hit an all-time record in the history of the virus in Spain with more than 25,000 infections in a single day on October 30.

Since August, more than 7000 fatalities have been recorded and the predicted trend by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), indicates a substantial leap in the number of infections by February 2021 unless tougher measures are put in place.

The IHME graphs demonstrate trends under different conditions: the first one shows the scenario if current restrictions are relaxed and the second predicts the situation in a scenario where current restrictions are upheld. In the former, total deaths in Spain would hit the 100,000 mark with 98,000 infections daily. The latter more controlled scenario sets the scene for a less distressing but still worrying picture: 68 000 dead with an infection rate of 17 000 a day.

Like most of the governments in the EU, Madrid is aware restrictions were lifted too soon in the aftermath of the first wave when things were looking up. But unlike their counterparts, the governing leftist coalition here has had to deal with belligerent opposition groups intent on political gain and whose actions have not contributed to keeping the virus at bay.

As recently as last week (Oct 22), the ultra-right VOX party, launched a motion of no confidence against the socialist Premier, Pedro Sanchez, accusing him of responsibility in the deaths of the Covid-19 victims. It came just a few days after the group organised a flag-waving and vociferous motorized cavalcade through the centre of the capital to protest against the state of alarm intended to stop the spread of the virus.

Needless to say, the irony was not lost on the vast majority of parliamentary deputies. The motion failed to prosper.

Another opposition politician, the conservative Isabel Diaz Ayuso, of the Popular Party (PP)  has offered little support in her role as the President of the region of Madrid, constantly dismissing the central government’s efforts to curb the virus as futile and presenting a toe-curling vision of a politician completely out of touch with the brutal reality of the health crisis.

Her most recent announcement mobilized the health workers sector against her when she announced that a new multi-million euro, 1000 bed hospital built purposely to cater for pandemic victims was to be staffed with doctors and nurses from existing hospitals, exacerbating already depleted resources.

Although the state of emergency is scheduled to last until November 9, the government’s plans are to keep the measures in place until May 2021 to ensure success in flattening the curve. This will require Premier Sanchez to obtain parliament approval.

“Extending the state of emergency is not set in stone,” Mr Sanchez told a press conference when announcing his strategy, “but it’s what the experts believe is required to beat the increase in infections. ” His target he added was for 25 infections for every 100,000 inhabitants.

Given that the current figure stands at 368 infections per 100,000, he warned that the next months would be an uphill struggle. “We have a long way to go. We will have to deploy an exercise in endurance and discipline but I have no doubt that we will succeed as we did in the first wave. ”

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