Fearful memories have long been awakened. “The intensive care units,” warns Harvard professor Miguel Hernán, “were our last line of defense.” Spain is about to face another serious medical emergency, said the advisor to the Spanish government on Twitter. Doctors from 62 Madrid hospitals also turned to the public this week: Scenes like those in March could soon be repeated. No country in Western Europe is currently being hit as hard by the second wave of the pandemic as Spain. Unlike in Italy, where a similar number of people died in the spring, the number of cases in Spain is now higher than it was then. The Ministry of Health reports around 9,000 new cases every day, and more than 500 people have died in the past seven days.
Not long ago it seemed that people could breathe a sigh of relief. Over the summer, the number of infected people rose steadily, but not the number of dead, which may have been due to the fact that it was mainly younger people who were infected, who had to expect milder courses. Now, however, the virus could have found its way back into older and more vulnerable groups and the number of deaths skyrocketed. According to research by the daily newspaper The country 95 percent of the intensive care beds in Madrid are occupied by Covid patients, and operating theaters have already been converted into intensive care units in some public hospitals.
The capital is considered to be the driver of the second wave in the country. In particular, in the poorer districts in the south of Madrid, many people live in a confined space, the number of cases there has long since exceeded 1,000 infected people per 100,000 inhabitants. Madrid’s conservative regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso had to react: A partial lockdown has been in effect in 37 areas of the capital region since Monday.
The opposition and many health care experts criticize this as too late and insufficient. In fact, it is difficult to place restrictions on individual districts, while the residents of the surrounding streets can move largely freely. In addition, the approximately 850,000 inhabitants of the affected areas are still allowed to leave them to take the often overcrowded buses or subways to work, school or to the doctor.
Nevertheless, Díaz Ayuso wants to do without a lockdown of the entire capital. A full curfew would be too damaging to the economy, she believes. In spring, she harshly criticized Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s nationwide lockdown. In the end, however, Díaz Ayuso had to take a step towards Sánchez, gritting his teeth. Under pressure from her own authorities, she asked for assistance from soldiers, police and doctors.
In France, the government had long been optimistic. You have to “live with the virus,” said President Emmanuel Macron when he visited the Tour de France last week. The President showed how it was: put on your mask, disinfect your hands and still have fun. The fun is now over for a while. Health Minister Olivier Véran showed the new cartography of the virus on Wednesday evening. After the curfew ended in May, France was divided into green, orange and red zones. You can now do without green and orange. There is only red, redder and the redest of all. The latest figures: 13 072 corona infections in 24 hours. Marseille was hit particularly hard. The infection rate exceeds 250 cases per 100,000 population. The “maximum alert level” now applies there, and the high alert level in Paris. Bars and restaurants in Marseille have to close on Saturday, initially for 14 days. In Paris and other major cities, they are only allowed to open until 10 p.m.
There was little protest or resistance to the curfew in March, but the new restrictions immediately led to a dispute. The green mayor of Marseille, Michèle Rubirola, immediately tweeted her anger to the world. The steps have not been agreed with her, she is demanding a ten-day delay. The Paris mayor, the socialist Anne Hidalgo, also complained about the lack of agreements with the government. The measures are “very strict” and “difficult to understand”.
The unusually heated dispute between the government and the country’s two largest cities contradicts Macron’s promise from the summer that the regions would be given more responsibility in fighting the pandemic. The rapid increase in infections also shows that the government’s testing strategy has failed. Macron had announced a million corona tests per week. Although this number has been reached, it takes an average of more than 48 hours, often a week, until a result is available. Tracking the contacts of an infected person hardly works either. And the official Corona app has to be called a flop. Only four percent of citizens downloaded it.
On August 31st, the prime minister appeared very self-confident. At an international forum in Bled, Slovenia, Andrej Babiš said: “We are best in Covid.” Less than four weeks later, the Czech Republic is one of the countries in Europe where the virus is spreading the fastest. Far more than 2,000 people are infected every day in the country with just under eleven million inhabitants, the other day it was even more than 3,000. The Corona crisis threatens to turn into a prime minister’s crisis.
Health Minister Adam Vojtěch resigned on Monday. A pawn sacrifice, wrote the media. From the opposition point of view, it is Babiš who created chaos and confusion. “He now has to let the health minister speak and hold back,” says Olga Richterová, party vice-president of the pirates. They are the third strongest force in parliament and are currently overtaking all opposition parties in polls. They finally got the crisis team to resume its work. “Our plan for a second wave has been in place since June, but Babiš preferred to talk about other topics.”
The new Health Minister Roman Prymula, as the top epidemiologist, brought the Czech Republic through the beginning of the pandemic. The Czech Republic reacted with extremely strict measures, declared a national emergency on March 12, and closed all borders. Six days later, a general mask requirement was in place – even outdoors. When the Czech Republic reopened its borders at the end of May, just 8955 people were infected. In summer all measures were lifted, including the mask requirement. Now the number of infected people has risen to more than 55,000, there are more sick people than those who have recovered. “There were hardly any reports from our country of severe progress,” says Richterová. Maybe that made people careless. The orders of the new health minister are mild: taverns and bars have to close at 10 p.m., but events with up to 1000 people remain indoors.
Health Minister Rudi Anschober had already thought about it two weeks ago on ORF, but the specific announcement was a shock for the tourism nation: Yes, skiing, après-ski only while sitting. No wild parties, no dancing to loud pop music; Unfortunately, according to Minister Elisabeth Köstinger, winter tourism is about more than just winter sports. What more is involved becomes more and more clear to the Austrians every day on which more than 800 newly infected people are reported. Many levers have to be turned if the industry, which is so important for the country, is to survive. Federal states in the west have brought the curfew, even outdoors you can only eat while sitting, in ski schools there are maximum group sizes, in cable cars it is mandatory to wear a mask. The ball season has been canceled, tests, tests and tests are to be carried out everywhere in order to prevent the “corona crash” of tourism that is forecast in Austria’s media. But the panic is growing, the bad news is mounting. Germany and Belgium have declared Vienna and now Vorarlberg a risk area, and the Belgians also have Tyrol on the red list. Tourism accounts for 15 percent of the country’s economic output.
In the government and parliament, mutual accusations have long since begun. In the spring, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was able to bask in positive reports across Europe that his coalition had managed the first corona wave well. Now there is criticism everywhere: too many restrictions lifted too early, chaotic crisis communication, sloppy laws, too late a reaction to the second wave. He himself had “wanted to tighten measures” earlier, so briefly insulted a few days ago, but it was not his “sole decision”. That was not well received by the Green coalition partner, and the dispute is growing among conservative politicians too. Lower Austria’s governor, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, said in a noticeably bad mood on Wednesday that when it comes to a crisis like this, she demands unity and clarity – also at the federal level. The citizens also demanded that.