Barcelona 19 JUL 2020
A restaurant in Bogatell beach, Barcelona. GIANLUCA BATTISTA
To act fast, with the recommendations of “our” experts and the idea that the Catalan government could better manage the pandemic. These were the three battle horses with which the government of Quim Torra diverted attention from the storm in the hardest moments of the Covid-19 crisis. In the past full monograph session on the coronavirus in Catalan parliament “Madrid” was marked again as guilty of all evils. However, the management of the so-called new normality is choking, and Catalan government receives criticisms about its decisions, which are growing everyday.
There was not a day from the state of alarm when the Catalan president Quim Torra and Catalan government would not criticize the recentralization of some competences (not of health management, for example) which Sanchez’s government made to try to draw the pandemic. in fact, her spokesman, Meritxell Budo, said that “in an independent Catalonia, there would be less deaths”, a few words that the Health Department rejected, “we cannot affirm this. saying what would have happened if … … it is very complicated ”.
Phase 3 of the de-escalation in the metropolitan area of Barcelona and Lleida lasted only one day. Although a few more weeks of prudence were requested in physical contact and social activities, Torra was quick to celebrate that there was no longer “usurpation of powers”. Precisely, the week in which Catalonia entered the new normal, the Lleida region of Segrià began to experience a slight increase in cases of Covid-19, the germ of the outbreaks that now affect the area. In those days, in which Aragon also pushed back to phase 2 four neighboring regions with Lleida due to an increase in infections among seasonal workers, Catalan Vice President Pere Aragonés called to “fill the streets” to recover economic and social activity. In Catalonia the “new normal” was called “the resumption”.
The management of Catalan government to face the outbreaks, however, has weighed down the first weeks with the powers recovered after the end of the state of alarm: a management full of chiaroscuro and that has exacerbated the already tense relationship between the partners of the Catalan executive. The criticism for the supposed slowness of the central government in making decisions has been returned as a boomerang to Torra for the reaction to the situation in Lleida and the Segrià region.
Catalonia was a pioneer in introducing the mandatory use of the mask in public spaces but it took two weeks to react to the growth of cases in the border area with Huesca. The perimeter closure was consummated on Saturday, July 4, after the Health regional Minister, Alba Vergés, made a media tour the day before to say that this measure was not on the table, which made many people leave the weekend. Experts had been warning for days of the rise in cases.
The situation in that region, with great agro-industrial activity, worsened after the apparent lack of foresight to serve seasonal workers. In ERC, which also governs the city council and the Diputació, they assure that they had been prepared months ago but that the reality has ended up overflowing any forecast. “We would be much worse,” argues a Republican source. Fruit pickers are a diverse group, with conditions already very precarious and in which, for example, tracking contacts when there are positives is complex. Many are in an irregular administrative situation and fear for their future if they give their details.
One of the great criticisms of the experts, even those that Torra claimed to have as a reference, such as the infectologist Oriol Mitjà, has been the system for tracking positive cases. Although more tests are being carried out and the cases detected early, the health sector has charged against Catalan government hard for the lack of foresight and means to locate the contacts of the infected people and isolate them.
All three failure links in the trace chain made the so-called new normality to start in a very low situation. Primary care, which carries great healthcare pressure and a historical deficit of resources, assumed the early detection of cases without reinforcements. Epidemiological surveillance services, which track down positive contacts and investigate the source of the outbreaks, have been working understaffed for years just after successive cuts. With the last piece of the pandemic control device, which is the people who are responsible for monitoring healthy contacts so that they comply with the quarantine, the Government opted to outsource it to the Ferrovial company, a decision widely criticized by the health sector.
The mismanagement of outbreaks in Catalonia since the end of the state of alarm showed that the pandemic control system was not ready. Primary care detected early, but the device was insufficient to then follow the transmission chains and correctly isolate all contacts. The Govern has admitted failures, especially in the computer system in charge of loading and sharing the information among all the actors in the surveillance chain. The head of the monitoring unit of the Covid-19 in Catalonia, Jacobo Mendioroz, assumed that the Executive arrived “a little late” in the Lleida outbreak and the announcement of reinforcements in the surveillance system. The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, joined the criticism and said that they also arrived “late” in the metropolitan area.
The management of the outbreaks by the Government has also raised strong criticism between the mayors of 13 metropolitan municipalities due to the lack of confidence in the measures applied to contain the virus. The first metropolitan crown is, de facto, in a kind of phase 2, although the Govern, installed in the politics of gestures, has always avoided referring to the phases as it is a mechanism designed by the central government that the Generalitat criticized from the first day considering that people did not understand it well. Curiously, the Government’s resolutions also now suffer from problems of interpretation. The approved ordinance, in many cases with a very generic wording, left loose fringes and the mayors denounced the “inconsistency” of some measures. According to mayor of Barcelona Colau, Torra himself acknowledged that several points “squeaked and had to be fine-tuned.”
The meetings to resolve doubts, however, have been “unsuccessful” for the mayors. Cornellà’s, Antoni Balmón (PSC), was tough: “When an erratic management of the last phase of the pandemic crisis was made, it is difficult for a two hours [of meeting] to put on the table a solution “.
The war between ERC and JxCat takes its toll
The management of the pandemic has not been alien to the confrontations between the partners of Catalan government, ERC and Junts per Catalunya, immersed in an unofficial but informal electoral campaign that leads them to collide almost every day. Within Junts per Catalunya they point to the regional Minister of Health, Alba Vergés (ERC), and her team as “the stumbling block” to make important decisions. The perimeter closure, for example, faced more cautious Republicans and a President Torra stepping on the gas. Last Tuesday, sources from the Palau explain, Vergés declined to participate in the weekly press conference to explain the decree law that protected the closings. The spokesperson for the Catalan government, Meritxell Budó (Junts), had to assume the public appearance alone.
To the controversial management of Catalan government has been added the lack of a health authority at the forefront of Catalan public health. The chair of the Ministry of Public Health had been empty since the end of May, when veteran epidemiologist Joan Guix left office due to health problems. After seven weeks without filling that position, the Government has delegated the functions to one of the most solvent names and with management experience within the Department of Health; Josep Maria Argimon, an epidemiologist by training and managing director of the Catalan Institute of Health (the large public company that manages eight large hospitals and 80% of primary care), will occupy the position of secretary of Public Health with the challenge of redirecting the pandemic management in Catalonia.