De-escalation Phase 1; Spain back to the boozers
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: 229,540 cases
Asturias: 3,266 cases
As I leave the flat on Monday to buy some bread to liven up my rice and black bean ration meal I hear a new-yet-familiar sound from the windows of the front room; the unmistakable sound of stationary human chatter. I look out the window and see for the first time since mid-March people sitting on the terraces of two bars on my street. The inside of bars and restaurants remain closed and staff wears gloves and masks. One bar has arranged its terrace furniture so that no more than two people can be seated at the same small table. The other has theirs pretty much as it was before. This is easily the most notable change between phase zero and one and completely changes the atmosphere of the city, in the sense that there now is one. Half the country can now re-indulge in the nation’s national pastime of boozing al fresco. Restart the football and it’d be more or less business as usual in Spain, minus of course actual business. Around lunch time there are a few customers, sat in pairs or trios. By that evening the clientele has more than doubled and groups have more or less become indistinguishable from one another, social distancing a distant concept buried in the annals of twenty-four hours ago.
Punters have found an exploitable loophole in the concept of carefully arranged seating. They cleverly stand up to do their drinking, making that gesture basically futile. The weather exacerbates things; to avoid the rain everyone is crammed under the shelter of the awnings. But then the street is pedestrianized, which means in good weather, the whole street becomes one shared terrace. How can this possibly be policed? If a terrace is found to be too crowded how is it determined who gets ejected, or does everyone get turfed out in the name of egalitarianism? Are bar staff expected to begin turning people away from their own bars, knowing drinkers can just walk several yards next door and get served there instead? This is just one street. How this concept is policeable in the larger squares where the beginning of one terrace and the end of another is often vague and largely ignored anyway is beyond me. Also why can I in theory sit on a terrace boozing all day interacting and exchanging phlegm particles with a limitless number of other drinkers but I’m still restricted to a very specific time slot if I want to do the solitary sport of surfing?
They warned de-escalation would be tricky and divisive—how can it not be?—and there’ll no doubt be more inconsistencies and points of conflict in the coming months for reactionaries and halfwits to latch onto and call for the proverbial witch to be burned and something or someone blamed/sacrificed/deported. Likewise with more freedoms comes subconscious complacency and thus probably small “rebrotes”—outbreaks and flare ups. This risk becomes more relevant when one considers the news this week that only 5% of the Spanish population are thought to have developed antibodies to/can be said to have had the virus. In Asturias it’s about two percent. In Madrid it’s double the national average at roughly 10%. This is surprising considering the devastation already wrought in Spain and an insight into the catastrophe that would have ensued had herd immunity (60% infection rate) been followed as policy: some quick math though. Five into sixty goes twelve times. Current deaths standing at—let’s round it up to a clean 30,000. 30k multiplied by 12 equals 360,000. 360,000 dead Spaniards, give or take a few thousand or five. Fun fact: this was at one point the actual policy of the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Nonetheless it feels as though that in containing the virus many of Spain’s regions have earned the prize of an increased risk of a future major outbreak, a mere kicking the metaphorical can the wrong way down the metaphorical tunnel, just the next stage in a never-ending cycle of grimness until a vaccine is developed and distributed sometime between what some outlets suggest might be next month and others 2030. How long this can be endured remains to be seen. Hundreds and thousands must be waiting to crack; indeed some already have.
Spanish twitter has exploded today with images of a “cacerolada” (a protest where people bang casserole pans because something something Spain) held yesterday in one of the wealthier barrios of Madrid. Without digging about into the twitter accounts of a bunch of dickheads with the Spanish flag in their handles it’s hard to see exactly what their beef specifically is. The sheer number of national flags kind of betrays the whole thing as not so much against any virus policy in particular but just an opportunistic swipe at the current left-wing coalition government by a bunch of “pijos” (posh fuckers) for whom the continuing lockdown has bumped a few Euros off their stock portfolios. The lack of social distancing during the protest is particularly brazen considering most of these people have spent the last two months putting the number of dead directly at Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s door.
For anyone interested in why Asturias has, despite having the oldest population of any comunidad in the country, one the lowest death rates in Spain national newspaper El País has a feature on just that issue. I can’t currently find an English version I’m afraid. Short answer though: solid healthcare system, third highest rate of testing in Spain, lots of space, and a big fucking mountain range between it and the diseased hordes.
¡Solidaridad para siempre! And lastly, some housekeeping; in the last dispatch I wrote that all of Spain minus Madrid and the comunidad of Castille León would be moving into phase 1 of lockdown de-escalation. Barcelona and much of Catalunya also remains in phase zero, as well as large parts of Andalucía taking in both Malaga and Granada, and large parts of Valencia. The largest city that’s de-escalated into phase one is Sevilla. Without going into any more detail, roughly 51% of Spain is now in phase one. One more correction: no parts of Asturias have been fast-tracked into phase two.
John Miskelly lives in Gijón/Xixón, Asturias, Spain. He is 34 years old.