Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Analysis

Italy and Spain: worst - or just first?

  • Italy, which expects to reach the peak of the outbreak within a few days, has registered over 10,779 deaths, followed by Spain (7,340) (Photo: Hospital Clínic)

Italy and Spain, the most-affected countries in the EU, have tightened their response to the coronavirus outbreak as the pair together now account for more than half of the world's coronavirus death toll.

As the number of fatalities from coronavirus in Italy increased again on Monday (30 March), the nationwide lockdown due to expire on Friday (3 March) will likely soon be officially extended until 18 April, according to Italian media.

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"The measures that were due to expire on April 3 inevitably will be extended," the Italian regional affairs minister, Francesco Boccia, told Sky TG24 television.

"I think that it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to talk of re-opening [schools and production sites]," Boccia added.

Similarly, Spain announced the previous weekend (21-22 March) a near-total lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In a televised address, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez announced the halt of all non-essential business activities, as well as a prohibition of layoffs, under the state of emergency.

However, the head of the centre-right People's Party (PP), Pablo Casado, on Monday accused Sánchez of "hiding information" and threatened to vote against the last two decrees laws to fight the coronavirus outbreak and its economic effects.

"We cannot continue rowing in the same direction as the government if they lead us to the precipice," he said during an online press conference, adding that these new initiatives could destroy "the entire productive system" of the country which is already "very affected."

In fact, many companies in Spain have already temporarily suspended their workers' jobs - affecting over 500,000 employees.

Additionally, it is estimated that the economy will lose around €49bn this month alone due to the coronavirus' response.

'Only a handful'

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Spain had seen how the virus hit other countries such as China, then Iran and Italy.

Yet the response of the new Spanish coalition government has been criticised for being late and even clumsy.

During Italy's initial lockdown, Spain was still operating with 'business as usual'.

This means hugging, kissing and mass gatherings - including stadiums full of supporters and mass demonstrations to mark International Women's Day (8 March) all across the country.

"Spain will only have a handful of cases," said the head of Spain's health emergency centre, Fernando Simón when Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte extended the lockdown to his whole country on 9 March.

However, some 85,195 cases of coronavirus were recorded in Spain as of Monday (30 March) - with 12,298 identified among health workers.

Meanwhile, Italy, which expects to reach the peak of the outbreak in the next few days, has registered over 10,779 deaths, followed by Spain (7,340), China (3,304) and Iran (2,757).

Turning point

Spain has defended the government's response to the crisis, claiming that its actions have been based on scientific advice.

However, while Conte's cabinet has been supported since the beginning of the crisis by a special scientific committee on the coronavirus, Sanchez only decided to create a similar such advisory body a week after the lockdown was in place (21 March).

As a result, some have alleged that the risks of the coronavirus crisis might have been underestimated.

When Sánchez announced the state of emergency and nationwide lockdown on 13 March, it took more than 24 hours to enter into force - by which time many people from Madrid and other major cities travelled to remoter parts of the country to be under quarantine in their second residences.

Yet, the lockdown that has been in place since 14 March has been efficiently enforced by law enforcement - which registered over 30,000 reports and 350 arrests.

Meanwhile, Spain and Italy have also called for a new Marshall Plan to overcome the negative impact of coronavirus on the economy - referring back to the US-financed program after the Second World War to rebuild western Europe.

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