We have all gained rather a lot of experience about the difficulties of managing a pandemic such as COVID-19. Presumably we have learnt a lesson or two from the mistakes made so far. At first politicians and scientists —at least some of them—, as well as the general public, took the threat too lightly when evidence already suggested that the epidemic was on its way and it would have serious consequences. The signs were there, but they weren’t picked up.
Now that we are beginning to see not so much the end of the tunnel but the beginning of a hypothetical slow return to some sort of normality, it would be equally mistaken to do the opposite: to take hasty or reckless decisions. So we must welcome the discussion on easing the lockdown restrictions while we are still several days away from the start and we all know that it will be done slowly. Obviously the discussion has begun because the public are anxious owing to the state of the economy —with some sectors lobbying to re-open their businesses— and the weariness caused by the lockdown that has been in place for over a month and has taken its toll, especially on children. At any rate, this is a positive debate ahead of the fact: it means that there is some planning work going on and, therefore, we should not see the same sort of improvisation that we witnessed at the start of the crisis.
Above all, the discussion now must be of a technical nature. On this point, it is obvious that the lockdown cannot be lifted the same way everywhere and for everyone. That is why it is reasonable for the Catalan authorities to ask Madrid to be granted powers to ease the lockdown at Catalonia’s own pace and in the manner that suits the situation here, which is obviously different from other Spanish regions. Again, we would like to think that the Spanish government will be wise enough to grant this request, one that is grounded on empirical evidence rather than partisan politics. In fact, the last few decisions announced by the government of PM Pedro Sánchez follow in the footsteps of Catalan government policy. A case in point is the decision to allow children to gradually spend some time outside their homes.
This week Germany has already begun to ease the lockdown, with every Land rolling out bespoke measures to suit the specifics of the pandemic in their region. Besides being consistent with Germany’s federal makeup, the decision obviously aims to respond to the way the pandemic has panned out in different Länder, too. The Spanish government would be wise to make a note of this in order to avoid making the same mistakes that it made when its centralised crisis management style led to more confusion and inefficiency, instead of providing solutions. The shambolic efforts to purchase and distribute PPE and the sluggish pace of testing attest to Madrid’s incompetence in the COVID-19 crisis. That is why the Catalan government have insisted that Catalonia must be allowed to make its own decisions and they have now been joined by other regions, including the Balearic Islands, whose leader is a member of Pedro Sánchez’s socialist party. Indeed, Francina Armengol, the president of the Balearic Islands, spoke to this newspaper on Saturday and stated that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be homogenous across Spain. It is plain common sense. This is what should prevail all round. And, even if it is just for a few months, they should put aside their political and territorial differences.