De-escalation; international comparisons
Thanks to Spanish artist Felix Rodriguez Fernandez aka Mr Zé for the above illustration. More of this series and other pieces can be found at www.mrzethecreator.com
Spain: 220,325 cases
Asturias: 3,099 cases
And so we emerged from our houses and apartments in running gear and wetsuits and with bikes and skateboards and even roller blades because they never went out of fashion in mainland Europe a bit like well-funded public services or mullets in Australia. Mostly it felt like any summer Saturday by the beach except no one was loitering and it was oddly quiet. This is most likely because the under fourteens aren’t allowed out until 2PM hence an absence of tantrums and/or inhibited shouts of joy from those young enough to still have those, but also possibly because it’s quite early. The over fourteen and under seventy are allowed outside to do sports or go for a wander between 6AM and 10AM and then again from 8PM until 11PM. This is “fase 0” of a 4-phase process of de-escalation that is expected to last into July, at which point the “nueva normalidad” will begin indefinitely.
I head into the water at about 8:30. We have an hour, although I have no clue how the police can possibly know or enforce that rule. The waves are small, a couple of feet at best—or double over-ankle for those who know the lingo (maybe even reaching knee-ticklers at the backend of a decent set)—nonetheless it’s crowded, not enough to prevent the requisite social distancing but sufficient for, say, a local paper’s photographer to take a photo that looks like we’re all squashed together crotch to ass to crotch on one giant banana boat.
Sure enough, by 11AM, the home page of one of the local papers is dominated by pictures of the seafront from that specific angle. It looks like Brighton on a bank holiday weekend. It’s a testament of the rapidity of the news cycle these days that within an hour one can journey from first-hand witnessed reality to modern journalism’s own constructed impression of it. Anyone who’s been to a political demo can testify to it; being told that what you just saw wasn’t what just happened. There is zero civic duty involved in the publishing of those photos. In fact it’s the opposite; it provokes resentment and hostility among citizens and heightened anxiety—a giant wooden spoon to stir the shit. But it also provokes comments, clicks and shares, traffic through the site, and increased ad revenue. Which is what newspapers of course are primarily for these days.
As the law of Murphy dictates, for the rest of the week the sea is flat. On the Sunday I go for a run. I do half my usual distance and my knee goes. On Monday my hamstring aches and continues to do so even as I write. I am reduced to strolling around within the requisite one kilometer from my flat (only people running or cycling can go farther). So much for La Gran Semana de la Liberación.
Still, after fifty-odd days of almost round the clock confinement the extra hour makes a difference. More importantly it’s a testament to progress. Spain as a whole is overcoming the virus. Already the Canary and Balearic Islands have been fast tracked to phase one of the de-escalation schedule. On Monday the rest of the country will join them, minus the comunidades of Cataluña and Castilla León which haven’t yet met sufficient ratios of cases per 100,000 inhabitants and/or ICU availability. Today’s paper informs us that Asturias, with a contagion rate five times less than the national average, will easily pass into phase one, with thirteen constituencies within the rural and mountainous areas of Valles del Oso (the bears have absolutely smashed social distancing to be fair) and Eo-Navia moving directly to phase two.
It’s an incredibly managed and intricate process which goes pleasingly against type; feckless “mañana, mañana” Spain almost Germanic in its meticulousness. Meanwhile Churchillian, stoic “we won the war ya’know?” U.K. dithers and shrugs according to the whims and off-hand blathering of its waffling head-boy, incapable of seeing out even a few weeks of lock-down lite (what Spain has only just regained has been the reality in the U.K. since the beginning) because something something the economy. The U.K. will begin to deescalate further on Monday even with death and contagion rates still twice as high as Spain’s and, according to the latest available numbers, likely to suffer the highest overall death toll in Europe. You wouldn’t know it though, the press still suspiciously reluctant to publish the hard numbers, preferring to focus on Dear Leader’s new-born baby (his fifth or sixth; no one knows for sure) and an affair between one of the government’s chief scientists and his lover. The Guardian and The Daily Mirror are the only nationals carrying news of the U.K.’s grizzly new status on their front pages.
While Spain, only half a generation beyond actual, real, goose-stepping Hitler-saluting fascism, knuckles down and does what has to be done for the welfare of the many certain Brits and Americans call not being able to get a haircut “tyranny.” To consume and live according to petty impulse and babyish self-gratification with a disregard for any concept of a larger society is now the distillation of “freedom.” For the sake of each other we were asked to sit at home and stick it out and the two countries most symbolic of supposed Western superiority have more or less decided they can’t manage it and given up.
It’s fucking embarrassing, not to mention exposing. When your country is weighing up the number of human sacrifices necessary to reanimate the corpse of its failed ideology; when you’re staring at the stark failure of forty-odd years of free-market dogma for the second time in just over a decade and still arguing for its preservation you’re beyond scientific reason and well into the realms of religious fanaticism. Surely this time the world order will change; Britain and the U.S. taking their rightful place as isolated failed states relegated to the margins of any wider discussion, the two headcases waffling on about “but they were going to die anyway” and “addiction to government handouts.” Fingers crossed.
¡Solidaridad para siempre!
John Miskelly lives in Asturias, Spain. He is 34 years old but feels 63.