With not much left in its coronavirus arsenal, Spain has put its 47 million citizens under a nationwide curfew, a move that experts hope will prove key to controlling an unrelenting virus.
Scientists and others face a big worry that weary populations such as Spain’s, eight months into pandemic, could potentially lose the will to fight.
“We have been trying very hard, both from an administrative and population point of view. That makes it even more worrisome in the sense we don’t want to go to the point of saturation where our population will feel like hope is lost,” Manuel Franco, professor at the Faculty of Public Health and Epidemiology at the University of Alcalá in Spain and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told MarketWatch.
“That’s something to bear in mind in many different places around the world,” Franco added .
A declared state of alarm by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez kicked in Sunday night, leaving an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in its wake. Regions will have the option of bringing that forward or backward by one hour. Sánchez has said he intends to keep those new rules in place for six months, something that is still sinking in here.
some gloomy Spaniards tried to approach the new rules with humor:
Spain’s central government tamed its spring COVID-19 wave with one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, only to undo much of that good work by summer when 17 regional governments were allowed to take over.
Recent months have seen officials in regions such as Madrid try a variety of measures — cutting capacity in bars and restaurants, limiting the number of individuals allowed to gather, and restricting movement in heavily infected areas. A nationwide mask mandate (as yet unachieved in the U.S.), has been credited for keeping many safe, but it has failed to stem the virus on its own.
Not unlike the U.S., the U.K., or Germany, Spain has a system of states where public and sanitary services are run by local governments. “This is unique to every country, and we need to keep that in mind,” said Franco. Indeed, the public warfare between Spain’s central government and officials in the Madrid region over how to control the virus has, in the eyes of some, exacerbated the situation.
The coronavirus battle in Spain has been hampered by the country’s very essence: a physically demonstrative, close-knit population whose lives revolve around family and food, cafes and plazas. Social gatherings remain the country’s biggest problem, so a curfew that is given time to work is a step in the right direction, said Franco.
“What we know right now is that this [virus] is not going to be gone in the next six months or three months. Even if we are able to find a vaccine that works it will take a while to make it available, to distribute…to all the people who need it, to make sure it works,” said Franco. That is, of course, based on knowledge from previous vaccines, he added.
And the battle to trace and detect the cases is one that can’t be won in Spain, for now.
The European Union, Franco noted, puts a threshold for the virus of between 50 and 150 infections per 100,000 people over 14 days. “In different places in Spain we are around the 400, 700, even 1,000 level. With those high rates, it’s impossible to be able to trace the cases,” he said. All officials can do is restrict the population more, and move to reduce contagion and transmission of the virus, he said.
“When you reach an epidemic, you are not able to identify the small outbreaks, you are just able to see how this is moving,” he said.
It isn’t all bad news in Spain though, as Franco said the education system has sent students back to school with masks, strict social distancing, and other measures that have largely kept infections low. “I think that’s important. We are a highly unequal population and economy. Those suffering the most are in the vulnerable populations,” he said.
Franco admires New York’s de-escalation and says countries will hopefully keep learning from each other, with Spain’s once-again frontline status potentially able to provide information for other countries. He said he would like to see more social-science research emerge, which will help scientists understand social norms and cultures, and their part in the pandemic.
With Spain’s latest curfew step, it’s clear the world will have to be patient to see if the measures will work in the end and can be useful for other countries. “We need time and to sustain them,” said Franco.