MADRID — Just days away from the start of a new school year, Spain’s capital city rolled out fresh restrictions on Monday to cope with what’s becoming a relentless second wave of cases.
But those measures — strict controls on the distance between seats rather than tables in food-service settings, reducing funeral attendance to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors, and 10-person limits on social gatherings — seem modest as the country’s total infections close in on 500,000, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins. Official numbers indicate that threshold has already been reached. Spain’s is the highest infection total in Europe, though it pales against the 6 million–plus cases in the U.S., which has seven times Spain’s population.
Madrid’s new measures are cold comfort to parents, including this journalist, who will be sending at least one child to all-in-person classes of 21 children. More than 2,000 of 66,000 Madrid teachers recently tested positive for COVID-19 and will have to be retested. Elsewhere in the country, two schools have already had to close due to infections.
At the heart of the resurgence of Spain’s cases has been a rush to return to normal. Spain’s experience has also been impacted by government desperation to get the tourism industry and bars back in operation; overly relaxed family gatherings; insufficient safety protocols for field workers; and the behavior of idle youth with effectively nothing to do but party, and spread the virus.
Much as New York did, Spain climbed out of the depths of COVID-19 infections with the strictest measures possible, but some parts of the country began to suffer two months later. To be clear, not all of the country has been equally affected in the second wave, with Madrid the hardest hit, while other regions are seeing low infection rates, as this government map shows.
How the country pulls itself out this time may be a blueprint for other countries and municipalities to follow. MarketWatch spoke to these experts via email in hope of shedding light on where Spain stands now and what should be done.
Juan Jesús Gestal Otero, professor emeritus of preventative medicine and public health at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, was one of 20 experts who signed a letter in the British medical journal the Lancet asking for an independent review of Spain’s COVID-19 response.
MarketWatch: What key mistakes did Spain make after the lockdown in the spring, and what must it do now to fix the situation?
Otero: It took a long time to get contact tracing up and running. It should have started when the case curve began to decline. It would have helped to have the disease more controlled at the end of the de-escalation. Each autonomous community set up its own tracking system, many of them insufficiently staffed.
MarketWatch: Will Madrid’s new measures, such as cutting capacity at bars and restaurants,…