ANALYSIS: Why is Spain refusing to impose another lockdown?

Spain's government is adamant that a nationwide lockdown isn't necessary even though infection rates are soaring. Graham Keeley wonders if the gamble can pay off.

ANALYSIS: Why is Spain refusing to impose another lockdown?
Archive image of medics looking out from hospital windows. Photo: AFP

Spain is gambling that the third wave of coronavirus can be beaten without bringing in another tough lockdown which will further damage the economy.

It is bucking the trend of European governments like Britain which have confined their populations to their homes once again as contagion rates rise.

Spain's coalition government has refused to allow 15 of the 17 regions to bring the curfew forward from 10pm to 8pm. Other regions wanted to impose household lockdowns, which were also denied.

Yet infection rates have tripled and hospital admissions doubled in the past three weeks.

On the RTVE television news this morning, a doctor at the Virgen de la Salud Hospital in Toledo, in Castilla la Mancha, said: “We are cannot take any more patients. The intensive care unit and the rest of the hospital is overwhelmed.”

Spain reported a record 41,576 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and the cumulative incidence rate of reported cases of COVID-19 per 100 000 population over the last 14 days has soared to 736.23.

The number of reported daily cases in Spain has now over taken that of the United Kingdom. Yet Britain is under a tough home lockdown.


So, can Spain's gamble pay off? 

Salvador Illa, the Spanish health minister, remains confident.

“Spain defeated the second wave and will defeat the third wave with the same measures,” he said.

However, health experts that I have spoken to say this confidence is misplaced.

Rafael Bengoa, a former director of the World Health Organisation health systems director who is now the co-director of the Institute for Health and Strategy in Bilbao, believes that it is impossible to say the third wave has been conquered if cumulative contagion rates are still soaring.

“I think they believe they will bend the curve (of contagions) because they say they beat the second wave. One hasn't beaten a wave if you are still (over) 200 (cases per 100,000),” he said.

“They decided to allow a lax family Christmas (like Ireland) and we are seeing the result of that now.”

Professor Bengoa believes the government's strategy may damage the economy more than if it had enforced a strict home lockdown just after Christmas.

“This wave will be controlled little by little with the (current) restrictions but it will come down very, very slowly meaning the economy will be worse hit than if we had done a severe lockdown before,” he said.

The left-wing government's strategy of allowing its 17 regions to decide local restrictions is rooted in political priorities, analysts believe.

Keen to keep the separatist Catalan regional authorities and Basque nationalists onside, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez handed power to the regions when Spain came out of lockdown last summer.

Spain is currently in a state of emergency which is expected to last until May and which implies a raft of restrictions on daily life.

However, only the central government has the power to impose a full home lockdown.

No doubt, with the Spanish economy still in dire straits, the government does not want to put the eventual recovery in more jeopardy by sending the population home.

The furlough scheme has been extended this week until May and business sources I have spoken to suggest it will carry on until the end of the year or beyond.

Against this background is the question of what happens after furlough ends.

Many business owners I have spoken to have predicted that there will be a raft of bankruptcies because of the government's edict that companies must keep staff on for at least six months post furlough.

They say this will be unsustainable for companies which have made little money during the pandemic.

“We have had to borrow just to keep afloat during the furlough scheme so when that comes to an end we will unfortunately not have the money to keep all our staff on, much as we would like to,” one restaurant owner told me.

“If we are forced to employ people we cannot afford for six months this will not be possible. Like many other businesses we will have to go bankrupt.”

So, Mr Sanchez – like leaders the world over – is no doubt weighing up a difficult choice as his government continues to refuse to impose another draconian lockdown.

Should he put the economy or public health first? Time will tell. 



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .





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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.