At midnight on Sunday, after 100 days in confinement, the sixth and final extension to the state of alarm in Spain was brought to an end.
The pandemic, which has spread fear and confusion across the world, which has paralysed the international economy, and which still continues to affect the lives of millions of people, is finally under control in Spain, with the country now moving into a new phase of de-escalation.
Of course the “new normal” will still require us to wear a mask and maintain physical distance, because the coronavirus continues to circulate, but the most complicated stage now seems to be behind us, buried deep in the bowels of those critical days back in April, with more than 900 deaths per day, and the hospitals in Madrid and Barcelona in a state of total collapse.
There still needs to be responsibility and patience, a lot of patience, because the coronavirus epidemic has not ended, indeed, in other parts of the world “it is still accelerating”, as the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom, has warned.
On Friday the global number of new infections again reached a daily high, almost half on the American continent, with more than 8.6 million people affected by SARS-CoV-2 and with 460,000 deaths, according to the latest data from the Johns Hopkins University.
In this current reality, the danger in those countries that have passed the most virulent stage is called a new outbreak, a rebound or regrowth, like the 34 deaths reported by the Ministry of Health, that were registered in the last month or the 928 new infections: nine in slaughterhouses and many others in hospitals or care homes, on a mink farm in Teruel or among the health professionals who travelled to Portugal or the seasonal workers who travelled to France.
Minister Salvador Illa has pointed out that nine serious outbreaks are still currently active in Spain but the one big problem that remains is the rapid spread of this epidemic, if any of them is allowed to get out of control.
With the ‘new normal’ the one major difference, as the country moves into this new phase of de-escalation, is that regions are taking control of much of the management of the crisis within their own Communities, and each government will now be able to establish its own measures and procedures.
But it will not be a situation completely free of restrictions with the obligatory use of masks when a safe inter-personal distance of 1.5 meters cannot be maintained, with fines of up to €100 if this is not observed.
The rules also establish constant coordination between care homes and the health system, the adoption of prevention and hygiene measures in the workplace, the organisation of work stations and shifts to avoid large groups of people, and the introduction of new health controls in all airports.
Travel restrictions have now also come to an end within the European Union and Schengen area with the one exception on the border with Portugal which will not reopen until July 1. But in view of the United Kingdom’s introduction of a 14 day period of quarantine, the government is considering the same as a reciprocal measure, although discussions are also taking place regarding an ‘air corridor’ between the two countries. Borders with the rest of the world will begin to open on 1 July on a gradual basis.
Many doctors warn that this greater movement of people will be accompanied by an increase in number of cases of coronavirus in Spain, after a period in which the incidence of the disease in the province is almost nil. Thankfully, however, a great epidemic wave like that of last March is not expected.
“There will be more cases in the coming weeks, but we don’t expect it to be a very strong outbreak because many containment measures have now been taken,” said Félix Gutiérrez, head of the Infectious Diseases Service at the General Hospital in Elche.
He adds that the greatest precautions should be taken with tourists who come from other countries, especially when restrictions begin to be lifted with other destinations beyond the European Union. “The situation of the epidemic in Spain is quite similar, although there are areas such as the Valencian Community or Murcia that are in much better shape than others, such as Madrid or Castilla y León. However, there are also many countries where the situation is not as well controlled, such as Great Britain”.
Gutiérrez said that he is also in favour of those countries of origin establishing some type of control over their passengers who leave.
But as we now settle in for the long haul, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Centre for Health Alerts, also called for prudence. Reminding us all that the measures in this new phase will be in place until the pandemic is considered to be over, he said “We need to take care. This new normality requires us to be conscious of the risks. Journeys should not be made if they are unnecessary, but this is now a case of individual responsibility. We must hope that the appearance of an effective treatment or a vaccine is not too far away.”