Covid-19: Concerns over Spain’s preparedness for possible fifth wave

‘The end of the state of emergency was not the end of coronavirus’, says health official

People crowded on the beach in Barcelona on Sunday as  residents were euphoric at the ending a  of six-month long national state of emergency and consequently, the local curfew.  Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

People crowded on the beach in Barcelona on Sunday as residents were euphoric at the ending a of six-month long national state of emergency and consequently, the local curfew. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

 

The lifting of a months-long national state of emergency has allowed Spaniards to travel and party freely for the first time in months, but it has also created concerns about whether their country is prepared for a possible fifth wave of Covid-19.

Last weekend, the central government lifted a state of emergency that had been in place since October 2020. The measure had imposed a nationwide curfew as well as allowing Spain’s 17 regional administrations to introduce and withdraw restrictions as they saw fit. Many of them used it to prevent non-essential travel across their borders.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and other cities last Saturday night to celebrate as the curfew was lifted. Revellers gathered in squares, many of them dancing and cavorting around in water fountains. Television footage showed a large number of people not wearing face masks, which are still mandatory in public spaces.

Fernando Simón, the head of medical emergencies, warned that such scenes were worrying.

“The end of the state of emergency was not the end of coronavirus,” said Mr Simón, who is the face of the government’s management of the pandemic. “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed, with myself included, because we haven’t been able to get the message across.”

Although the authorities hope such scenes are merely a one-off response to the lifting of restrictions, they have fuelled fears of what would be a fifth wave of coronavirus in Spain, which has registered just over 79,000 deaths from the pandemic.

Legality

However, there are also concerns that local governments are no longer sufficiently equipped in legal terms to deal with new surges in infections.

As the state of emergency has ended, several regions have sought to reintroduce restrictions, including the Basque Country which, with nearly 400 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, has the highest Covid-19 incidence in Spain. However, the Basque high court has refused to approve a new curfew and restrictions on movement, on the grounds that the regional government is not legally competent to implement them. That contrasts with the Balearic Islands and Valencia, where courts have approved similar measures, although those regions have much lower incidences of the virus.

“Something is wrong when, due to the government’s failure to step in during a public health crisis, judges are in charge more than doctors or experts,” noted El Confidencial news site.

The opposition has called on the central government to use a “plan B” to resolve what many have described as legal chaos. However, the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez has insisted that local governments do have enough powers to manage the virus, including, for example, the ability to request a localised state of emergency.

“I want to be clear, the [national] state of emergency is the past, we have to look to the future and the future is vaccination, vaccination and vaccination,” Mr Sánchez said.

With over six million people completely vaccinated, the government says it is on target to immunise 70 per cent of Spain’s population of 47 million by the end of the summer.