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5 May, 2020 15:37

If Spain’s loosened lockdown brings SECOND WAVE of Covid-19, Western lockdowns could extend for MONTHS

If Spain’s loosened lockdown brings SECOND WAVE of Covid-19, Western lockdowns could extend for MONTHS

Spain has announced a four-phase ‘roadmap’ out of its Covid-19 lockdown. Hurray for them. But if it gets a big second wave of infection, it could scare other countries into delaying their exit strategies for months.

The citizens of Spain are breathing a sigh of relief – and also fresh air for the first time in a long time. After seven weeks of punishing lockdown measures, the Spanish government has announced a four-phase plan to get the country running again by June. Literally, in some cases, because outdoor exercise had been banned.

It’s a big moment for Spain and best of luck to them, but the world will be watching, because if things go badly it could significantly delay lockdowns – and really annoy people – in other countries.

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It would be churlish to not feel happy for the Spanish people. Spain is the world’s second worst-hit country, with its healthcare system stretched to its limits and a people used to an outdoor culture suddenly boxed up with nothing but an endless onslaught of lockdown videos to divert them from that fact. They couldn’t even watch football on TV because there is no football.

The restrictions were tough. From mid-March until yesterday, Spanish adults weren’t allowed to leave their homes unless on “essential business.” This meant buying food, medicine or walking their dog. This meant a lot of people cooped up in apartments, forced to make their own lockdown videos and thus feeding the beast.

Now, not only can they emerge onto the streets, but they can even visit hairdressers and some shops. However, there are regulated conditions. So, no complimentary coffee or dog-eared magazines to flick through while getting a trim. It’s takeaway only for restaurant food and they have to wear masks on public transport.

There’s also an effort to keep the elderly safe by allotting them their own time on the streets: two hours from 10am and one hour from 7pm. Cue reports of rampaging geriatric gangs looting whichever shops sell lace armchair covers.

It’s not much, but compared to what they had it must feel like Christmas.

However, their newfound freedom could have consequences for people in countries whose governments will see Spain as a laboratory guinea pig or a canary down the mine or any other cruel animal analogy you can think of. If it works for them, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. If it doesn’t, the jitters will set in.

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Many people have been studying Sweden’s relatively relaxed approach to the pandemic, through curiosity or a desperate desire for their biases to be unscientifically confirmed. But this is a false comparison, whatever your views. Apart from the demographic differences, which apply to most comparisons, Sweden didn’t implement strict measures, so they have none to come out of. We’ll never know if their approach would or wouldn’t have worked elsewhere, the point is mooter than moot.

Spain’s approach, however, and its curves for infections and deaths are similar to a lot of countries, particularly in the West. So it’s reasonable to suggest that those countries might have similar reactions to exiting lockdown. It’s not perfect – for example, the new Spanish freedom is way less chilled than the UK’s harshest measures – but you take what you can get these days.

It’s all about the now-infamous ‘second wave’. Mathematical modelers will tell you that, as measures ease, an increase in infections is almost inevitable. People will have more contact with each other and door handles, plus some will bend or break the rules. But if that second wave is significant and curves get steep again, expect panic.

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Expect other governments – particularly those who haven’t yet set out any kind of exit strategy – to get spooked about loosening restrictions and to seriously consider setting things back. They might want evidence of success before following suit. A steep curve, similar to the original outbreak, could even bring things back to square one. Either way, it could extend lockdown measures by weeks or even months.

Politically, it would be a minefield for these governments: Stay strict and have an increasingly demoralized and angry population, or loosen up and risk the biggest case ever of “told you so” if an overwhelming second wave happens. The term ‘preventable deaths’ is not one any politician wants to be associated with.

So, as the world watches Spain, it could be worth getting the popcorn out.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.