Lifting the lockdown by province

PM Pedro Sánchez didn’t mean business when he negotiated his lockdown exit plan with Spain’s regional governments

On Tuesday PM Pedro Sánchez unveiled his plan to lift the lockdown restrictions by province and in several stages, a plan that —as expected— will be overseen by the Spanish Health Ministry. In the end he never really engaged in serious talks with Spain’s regional governments although he had asked them to appoint representatives and put forward their proposals. The central government have got their way with the excuse of coordinating the exit effort, even though what they meant all along was for Madrid to effectively run the whole operation.

The plan’s most troublesome point is the choice of Spain’s provinces as the default administrative division. The concept that dates back to 1883 and resulted from drawing a grid on the map with little regard for the reality of every area. To make matters worse, Catalonia’s administration and health service are organised differently: around counties, health care regions and ABS (basic healthcare areas). We hope that Spain’s Health Minister, Salvador Illa, will accept the proposal from the Catalan government on the subject.

Besides the decision to lift the lockdown by province, the prime minister’s address left many questions unanswered and cast confusion on some issues, such people’s mobility. For instance, we remain in the dark as to what criteria will have to be met in order to move on to a new stage. As for the restrictions that will be kept in place in every phase, it is hard to understand why people will be permitted to sit outside a bar or a restaurant —and even inside the premises during phase 2— but they won’t be allowed to visit friends or family. Likewise, visiting residents in care homes will be forbidden until phase 3, in a month’s time, which will likely take its toll emotionally. Furthermore, hotels will be allowed to open while mobility remains restricted and foreign tourists aren’t allowed to visit. Finally, we still don’t know how schools will go about taking on the children whose parents both must go to work.

In actual fact, the complexity of the restrictions and the wide range of cases will make it practically impossible to enforce the rules and people will need to be trusted to behave responsibly. For this reason, as we progressively exit the lockdown, the authorities should focus more on monitoring potential hazards at the workplace and in crowded spaces instead of controlling the population in general. On the whole, the public have shown that they can behave sensibly and realise what is at stake. Now it is the time for the economy, especially the retail sector, to start recovering one step at a time without jeopardising public health.

Ultimately, the lesson we have learnt from this crisis is that Spain has dismally failed to take onboard the notion of regional devolution. Pretending to listen is not enough: you need to show that you trust the administration closest to the people in a given region. Instead, when there is a crisis they default back to the province. That is, to the 19th century.

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