Coronavirus Chronicles 1: Bad News from Spain and Italy
At what point does the cure become worse than the disease?
That thought has been popping repeatedly in my head these days. It seems that not only we are heading for a pandemic that will kill millions of people, but it also seems that the economy will have its worse downturn since the Great Depression. This is because the prescribed reaction to the epidemic is to shut down everything except essential services. In a capitalist society that needs to grow constantly or crash, this seems like really bad news.
I grew up in Spain, where I still have an aging father, eight siblings and countless cousins, nieces and nephews. I have been reading no-stop El País, the main Spanish newspaper. The country is in lock-down and being quite serious about it. My sister just told me that they are fining people 200 to 600 euros for being outside without proper justification. People are only allowed out of their houses to buy food, medicines, cigarettes and newspapers. Oh, and to walk their dogs. My brother in Madrid tells me that people are renting dogs to get outside. I don’t know if he’s joking, but the web is full of adds for that. My sister is lucky, she lives in a country house with garden, swimming pool and a splendid view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Cies Islands (see the picture at the head of this article). My brother, on the other hand, considers himself lucky because his apartment faces south and has a balcony. He pities his neighbors across the street, who never see the sun.
I asked a friend in Barcelona if she gets sun in her apartment. She said yes, and that she has good views. I sent her a picture of my backyard in Los Angeles, with fig trees sprouting new leaves and the bougainvillea starting to bloom. She sent me back a picture of her horse. She is allowed to walk it in the corral, but not to ride it outside. A clear case of speciesism: why do dogs get better treatment than horses?
My heart aches for Italy, the country where I was born, where the situation is even worse. The hospitals are overwhelmed and in some places so many people are dying that they are storing the coffins in the churches and the Army has to come in to take the corpses away. Home confinement in Italy is even more strict than in Spain.
However, despite their draconian restrictions on people’s movement, Spain and Italy are still in the exponential phase of the epidemic. El País regularly publishes a page with all kinds of data about the evolution of the epidemic in Spain and around the world. You can see a graph from El País above (‘EE.UU.’ is the USA). Everywhere except in China and South Korea, the number of cases keeps increasing exponentially. Which makes me wonder: is home confinement really working? It did work in China, in the province of Hubei where the epidemic started, but their confinement measures were even stricter than those of Spain and Italy. On the other hand, South Korea seems to be stopping the epidemic without home confinement, practicing a range of measures that have been called “test, trace and treat” (the ‘3 Ts’?). Can we do this here? I will take a look at that question in the next article of the Coronavirus Chronicles.