For all intents and purposes, Europe has succeeded in beating back the coronavirus. But as countries begin to open businesses and schools – and welcome in tourists – to revive what they can of their economies, coronavirus infections appear poised to roar back with a vengeance.
Spain has seen more than 1,000 new confirmed coronavirus infections in a massive spike that seemed unthinkable last month. Altogether, the country has seen its caseload triple over the past four weeks, primarily in the Catalonia and Aragon regions in a direct correlation to areas where restrictions had been lifted. Last Monday, Catalonian President Quim Torra announced that stricter lockdown measures would be imposed if infection numbers did not improve within the next ten days.
“Where measures have been relaxed is where these clusters appear,” Health Minister Salvador Illa said. “We’re talking about gatherings of extended family and spaces associated with nightlife.” Regional governments have urged citizens to stay home. For 160,000 people in and around Lledia, confinement was mandatory. Meanwhile, face masks are compulsory in most regions as local governments and residents do their best to try to limit the spread of the virus.
Newly reopened bars, clubs, and beaches are now facing new, tighter lockdown restrictions to stop the second wave in its tracks. A major vacation destination, some European states –including Britain – are warning their citizens not to visit Spain in order to reduce the risk of exposure. This is a stunning turnabout from earlier this summer, when Spain was considered a safe country to visit. Citizens who return to the United Kingdom face 14 days of mandatory quarantine; citizens in Norway face a 10-day quarantine. In response, Spain has been negotiating with the UK to lift the quarantine on travellers coming from the Balearic and Canary Islands, two locations which rely greatly on tourism and are “highly controlled territories” according to Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya that are faring well. France has not yet shut its border but has advised citizens to cancel travel plans.
“Spain is a safe country,” González Laya added in his statement. “Spain has outbreaks. As do other countries. What’s important is that Spain is making great efforts to control these outbreaks.”
“The season is practically lost now,” said Martín Sarrate, president of Catalonia’s association of travel agencies, on Spain’s public broadcaster TVE. “This is an important setback. Who is going to travel to a country if you have to go into a 14-day quarantine?” Tourism accounts for more than 10 percent of Spain’s GDP.
Lyndsey Thomas, CEO of the travel site Girlabout.co.uk, noted that these new developments will hurt Spain’s already battered tourist industry during an especially precarious time. “I think we were really hopeful that 2020 might just survive. I think being able to go to Spain in the summer holidays was great news for the travel industry. Spain is the No. 1 destination for Brits going into Europe, going on a fly-and-flop beach holiday. And for this to happen, there’s going to be a major impact.”
France Sees a Second Wave
France is experiencing its own setbacks, with new COVID infections also topping 1,000 for days at a time. More than 120 local hotspots have been identified, including Brittany, France’s northwesternmost region. “We’ve returned to levels comparable to those at the end of the lockdown period,” the French public health agency Santé Publique France said in a daily statement. “We’ve thus erased a good part of the progress that we had accomplished in the weeks after the lockdown was lifted.”
Masks have already been mandatory on public transportation, but as of July 20, they are mandatory in all enclosed public places, including shops. Previously, wearing masks was left up to the discretion of the store owner. To track the spread of the virus, health authorities are making COVID-19 tests free of charge and available without prescription. “We wouldn’t describe this as a second wave, but what’s clear is that for several days now we have seen a noticeable increase in the number of confirmed cases, which had been in decline for 13 weeks,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview published in Le Parisien’s Sunday edition.
The French government is reluctant to reinstate wide scale lockdowns and is hoping localised quarantines will be enough to stem the tide. French Prime Minister Jean Castex has been blunt, saying, “We won’t survive, economically and socially” if another nationwide lockdown becomes necessary. Between the pain of lockdown itself and a looming recession the worst seen since the Great Depression a century ago, people are looking to ease the pain as many fear that frustrated citizens will lash out in anger should the situation continue to deteriorate.
“Populations can be summoned to heroic acts of collective self-sacrifice for a while, but not forever,” political scientist Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and the Last Man”, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine. “A lingering epidemic combined with deep job losses, a prolonged recession, and an unprecedented debt burden will inevitably create tensions that turn into a political backlash – but against whom is as yet unclear.”
Tags: France, Paris, Spain, Madrid, Catalonia, coronavirus, COVID-19, lockdown, pandemic, second wave, recession, GDP, Great Depression, public health, masks, economy, Quim Torra, Salvador Illa, Arancha González Laya, Martín Sarrate, tourism, Jean Castex, Francis Fukuyama, UK