In relation to the article “Coronavirus: Spain s failed response to the pandemic” in Al-Ahram Weekly of 16 April, I would like to make some comments that I think were overlooked in your analysis.
No doubt, Spain has been particularly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. For weeks, our infection rates and deaths have been painfully high. Covid-19 hit Spain early. Our country s high level of economic openness, and its leadership position in international tourist flows (82 million tourists in 2018), may explain this. However, the quick expansion of the pandemic was due to some cultural and social characteristics of Spanish society, which also conditioned the way we faced the pandemic.
These include a mild climate that favours social activities outdoors even during the months of January and February and the essential role of the family and respect for the elderly.
Twenty per cent of the Spanish population is over 65 years of age. We rank sixth in the world in life expectancy, partly because of the quality of the healthcare sector and our people s trust in it. When Covid-19 hit us, it was clear that it was the elderly who were being more affected. Given the high mortality rate observed, many went to the hospitals as soon as symptoms appeared.
Indeed, for two weeks we had our ICU units and our hospitals crowded with more patients than available beds or ventilators. And many had to sit or lie in lines waiting in difficult conditions.
It is true that other healthcare systems that do not admit old people in ICU units have seen more success in avoiding oversaturation. We resorted to building temporary hospitals in sports or convention facilities to accommodate all those who needed care. And because of this generous policy, we have had many cases of men and women over 70, 80, and even 90 years old recovering after weeks of having occupied an ICU bed.
As Spaniards, we feel both happy and proud of this. And I don t think you can call that a “failed response.”
As the pandemic became known, and as early as February, Spain started following the guidelines established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and took measures accordingly. On 14 March, only two days after the WHO had declared a global pandemic, the Spanish government decreed a state of alarm that included the strictest policies of confinement and social isolation.
Along with them came measures to supply the necessary materials and equipment to face the epidemic, the adoption of a social plan to try to mitigate the negative effects of the stoppage on citizens, and compensation and stimulus measures for economic actors. After a huge financial effort, the quantity of material and sanitary equipment multiplied. Protective equipment for health professionals, such as masks and gloves, was purchased. There were large numbers of donations of ventilators and other equipment.
Yes, we might have done some things wrong in this process, but the pandemic was something new to everybody and the demand for some of the sanitary goods required was high on the world market, and they were sometimes difficult and expensive to acquire.
But the government was always transparent about this, just as, painful though it was, it decided to be straightforward in informing people about the numbers of infected people and of deaths. And it did so inform them with absolute transparency. So much so that sometimes the numbers were corrected upwards when new facts were discovered.
We have counted not only people who have died in hospitals, but also those who have passed away in nursing homes, and even at home, not having had the chance to go to a hospital. We have shied away from the semantic dispute of whether they had died with coronavirus or of coronavirus. This has been a tragedy, and we have tried not to forget any of our citizens who have suffered or have passed away. They have all been counted as victims, our victims, of the pandemic.
I think we can say, taking into account today s perspective, that it certainly was not a “failed response” considering that no hospitals have been saturated, the number of patients cured is higher than the newly infected ones, and pharmacies have had access to the medicines required.
Many industrial companies, such as Seat, have halted their usual production and, with the collaboration of all their staff, have adapted their production lines to the mass manufacture of the necessary products to face the pandemic, such as masks, protective equipment for professionals in the healthcare sector, chemical products used for hygiene purposes, medications, respirators and so on.
Also, a plan has been approved aiming to create a social and economic shield to limit the consequences of the economic slowdown and to lay the foundations for a fast and vigorous recovery while protecting, at the same time, the most vulnerable, families, workers and companies.
EVOLUTION OF THE CRISIS: After more than a month and a half and despite the rapid increase in the number of infected people at the beginning of April, there are signs that we are stabilising the evolution of the epidemic.
According to the health authorities, we have reached the peak of contagion. From 15 to 25 March, the average increase in those affected was 20 per cent. As of Sunday 26 April, and despite the heartbreaking death toll, the growth rate of those infected was 0.8 per cent, which confirms that the curve of contagion has been flattened thanks to the effectiveness of the measures adopted since 15 March.
Last but not least, since 24 April the number of patients who have recovered per day (3,105) is higher than those who have been infected (2,796). The Spanish government just last week delivered to the Autonomous Community more than 750,000 rapid test kits for Covid-19, reaching three million units since the beginning of the crisis.
SOCIAL MOBILISATION: In addition to the measures adopted by the authorities, the social reaction to the Covid-19 epidemic must also be highlighted. The first reaction of solidarity was the daily tribute of the Spanish population to the health professionals who were in “the front line of the battle” every day at 8:00 pm.
Another form of solidarity has been the immediate offer of aid and donations made by large companies, SMEs, sports clubs such as Real Madrid or Barça, athletes, writers, singers and anonymous citizens to support the fight against the pandemic.
An example of such solidarity and effectiveness is the Amancio Ortega Foundation, the founder of the Zara brand, which during the month of March donated a large amount of medical supplies, including 1,450 ventilators, three million test kits and three million masks.
We should also not forget the role of the army, which has deployed 7,000 soldiers throughout the country. Members of the military have set up several field hospitals and have contributed to the construction, working against the clock, of a hospital in a convention centre near Madrid that was set up in 18 hours by the Military Emergency Unit (UME) with the help of dozens of volunteers.