These days we are surrounded by death. The deceased have names and surnames. They are either people we love or people loved by our loved ones. They will live on in our memory because we know who they were. The soaring death toll —which the Spanish authorities have failed to reconcile— means that the generation of our grandparents, who looked after us and rebuilt the country after the Spanish civil war, is disappearing before our eyes. They gave us the tools to try to do better collectively and as individuals, and we don’t know whether we will honour or disappoint them. The choice is overdue.
Health care providers accompanied them as the raging storm led us to the breakdown —yes, the breakdown— of the national health service, which carers have ploughed through by slogging their guts out. They held their hand when family members were not allowed to put themselves in harm’s way, despite the exceedingly high emotional toll of a lonely passing. Others have died in care homes that we will need to completely rethink in order to preserve the residents’ well-being and provide a dignified ending.
COVID-19 has overwhelmed us all, exposing the shortcomings of our health care system and the extent to which it relies on staff going the extra mile. These days we can’t merely reward the tremendous effort of carers by clapping for them, no matter how heartfelt and honest the gesture may be. Rather, the system needs to be reformed and adapted to the future, to the new demographic makeup, the new illnesses and the expectations of taxpayers. Today ARA is publishing ten recipes for strengthening our national health service, our own contribution to rethinking the day after. Clearly the first goal must be to increase the system’s funding in line with the OECD average, something we have always fallen short of. In order to provide more funds for the health service, we need to reconsider our priorities and put an end to the financial chokehold that the Catalan administration has been enduring since the economy’s recovery from the 2008 recession didn’t lead to better funding of public services due to the deficit goals set by the Spanish government and Europe’s budget orthodoxy. The COVID-19 emergency sets new priorities and our national health service is one of them. The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic demands the demolition of the orthodoxy in order to guarantee the basic services and cash for families, companies and the self-employed, as well as paving the way for a recovery which, unfortunately, will only be possible once the disease has been contained.
THE END OF THE SUN KING
The world that is coming to an end has witnessed the failure of authoritarianism, of the Sun King. But the tension between freedom and cooperation is very much alive these days, in strong opposition to the temptation of populism and rage. The world will see a struggle between populism and cooperation, a fight whose outcome remains uncertain.
The choice to re-centralise decision-making by snatching back the powers granted to the subsidiary administrations, be it federal states or autonomous regions, has proven not only unjust but also inefficient. Donald Trump has given in to the US governors, who will get the last say on the lockdown. All the more reason for Spain’s health ministry to follow suit, once it has shown that its lack of management experience, information and understanding of the system and the country prevent it from doing the job. In an interconnected world, cooperation must replace imposition and dogma must yield to competent management. Likewise, personal responsibility must take precedence over the threat of punishment, now that the people have given plentiful evidence of their willingness to respect the lockdown rules. Therefore, we need to start opening up breathing spaces based on prevention and ensuring that freedom is not curtailed. It makes no sense that only Spain and Italy’s epicentre of the pandemic should remain the sole places where children are not allowed outside.
In Spain this twilight world will see the start of what PM Pedro Sánchez referred to on Saturday evening as “the reconstruction accord”. The Spanish leader announced efforts in the health service, welfare, the economy and finance in order to boost employment and business. Sánchez believes that Spain’s “homogenous” response to the pandemic has proven effective. However, the shambles of the official figures, the tragedy of care homes and the lack of basic material for carers and the public —who are still being denied access to masks and test kits today— suggest otherwise. Sánchez would be mistaken if he thought that reconstruction is about taking back the regions’ powers and stepping up the erosion of the devolved state. The coronavirus crisis has merely put secessionism on the back burner and the handling of the crisis has shown that centralisation does not provide any tangible advantage, but simply highlights Catalonia’s performance limitations as a Spanish region.