The dreaded second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is making its way through Europe, and it’s hitting Spain especially hard, now overtaking Britain with the highest number of active cases in Western Europe. Spain’s cumulative total on Monday stood at 342,813 infected, with 28,617 fatalities, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as compared to Britain’s 320,343 total cases but higher death rate of 46,791 people. The UK has imposed a mandatory quarantine on all arrivals from Spain.
Months ago, in April, Spain trailed behind only the United States in terms of total COVID cases, until a strict lockdown put an end to the country’s high infection rate. Spain had hoped to rescue some of its normally lucrative summer tourist season when many regions came out of lockdown seven weeks ago, but the result has mostly been one of resurgent viral transmission and a moribund tourist market. Spain is now edging becoming the European country with the highest number of confirmed COVID cases, with 115.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days, only surpassed by Luxemburg – with 121.2 cases.
While the regions of Aragon, Catalonia, and Madrid house the biggest outbreaks, the first of the three has been particularly hard-hit, with health-centres packed to the brim and soldiers having set up a field hospital in the car park of a city hospital. An impoverished neighbourhood in Zaragoza, the region’s capital, seems to be the epicentre of the latest outbreak according to Jose Ramon Pano, an infectious disease specialist at the city’s University Hospital Clinic.
“This is an environment that is conducive to transmission” of coronavirus, Pano said, citing the cramped living conditions common to the neighbourhood. This has been made worse by gatherings at family events, bars, and nightclubs, then further spread to workplaces and retirement homes.
In response, a new slew of measures were announced on Friday by Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa, including a blanket closure of nightclubs and bars across Spain and the need for restaurants to close their doors by 1am. A ban on smoking in public was also instated unless a two-metre safety distance can be guaranteed, while Illa urged citizens to limit social gatherings to a maximum of ten people. Yet the rise in cases has been a source of withering criticism from experts.
A letter published in the science journal Lancet had Spanish health experts calling for an independent evaluation of the nation’s handling of the pandemic and pointing out flaws in the current measures being taken.
One of the letter’s signatories is Ildefonso Hernandez Aguado, a public health professor at Alicante’s Miguel Hernandez University, who said that the lack of qualified staff in tracking and tracing efforts was a component of the disease being allowed to spread unseen and unchecked. “Some regions have not understood that this was the key in the months after the lockdown and in the long term,” he said, adding that authorities should begin hiring and training new personnel as soon as possible.
Hernandez Aguado also added that Spain’s highly social culture was another culprit in the virus’ spread and subsequent resurgence. “This is a country that doesn’t understand holding a celebration, or taking a holiday if you’re not going to share them,” he wrote.
Some partiers have required harsh deterrence. Police on the Canary Island of Tenerife busted a party designed to deliberately spread the coronavirus. The police were alerted to the party plans on Twitter, where partiers were discussing illegally camping out on Los Patos beach in preparation for the festivities. By the time the police arrived to disperse them, more than 60 people were already camping out on the beach, which is closed.
The government responded to its critics saying that they have tested nearly 7.5 million people since the start of the pandemic, and another 400,000 were tested the week prior. “Appropriate measures are being taken to control the pandemic in coordination” with the regions said a statement. “The data shows that we are being very active in tracking and detecting the virus.”
Europe is Catching Up
Last Wednesday, Germany recorded over 1,200 new cases – partially due to the return of vacationers coming home from holidays abroad. On Sunday, France recorded 3,015 new cases marking the second consecutive day in which confirmed COVID cases have surpassed the 3,000 mark since the lockdown was lifted in May. As a result, authorities have expanded the areas in Paris and Marseille, France’s two largest cities, where the use of face masks is obligatory outdoors.
Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean Castex has warned that the public is becoming careless, and it is this carelessness driving this latest spike. “If we don’t act collectively, we expose ourselves to the heightened risk that the rebound in the epidemic becomes hard to control,” he said during a visit to an intensive care ward in southern France, adding that no one wants to experience another lockdown. Meetings of more than 5,000 people have been banned until October 30. August is also a time of year when French people traditionally go on summer holiday, making the situation especially painful.
“The epidemiological situation, which we are following very closely, is deteriorating: 2,000 new cases per day compared to 1,000 three weeks ago,” Castex said at a press conference in Montpellier. “About 25 new clusters are identified every day compared to five three weeks ago.”
Paris has also cancelled the marathon this year due to the spike, hoping to run the marathon in 2021 as normal. Organisers said that they had “tried everything to maintain the event” but felt “obliged” to call it off. “There will be great disappointment among those who have sacrificed time training for what had become an autumn marathon,” they said.
In a video conference held last Tuesday President Emmanuel Macron told ministers that the testing rate is “more than satisfactory“, with more than 600,000 tests being conducted weekly, but added that more could be done for targeting and tracing efforts.
In order to stem the spread of the virus from abroad, France began mandatory testing at the airport for people entering from a list of sixteen countries, including the United States, Brazil, and Turkey. Passengers from high-risk countries, however, are not required to enter quarantine whilst waiting for their test results.