The COVID-19 crisis in the Spanish state: "We can't go on living as per usual"

Interview with Dick Nichols

March 28, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — As the Spanish state attempts to deal with its spiralling COVID-19 death toll—over 4000 as of March 27 and second only to Italy in Europe—Federico Fuentes spoke to Dick Nichols, Green Left’s Weekly’s European correspondent based in Barcelona, about the debates engulfing country, the government's response, including its "nationalisation" (or not) of private hospitals, and how, among all the anguish, people’s solidarity is shining through.

March 29 update (from Dick Nichols): A major change in the policy of the Spanish government in its treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken place since the interview below was conducted on March 23.

On March 28, after two weeks of resisting calls for a complete shutdown of all non-essential activity, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced all workers in non-essential areas would have to stay at home from March 30 to April 9. The measure was welcomed by the Catalan government, which has been leading the call for such a shutdown.

Sánchez also repeated the call of Spain, Italy and Portugal for the European Union to jointly bear the cost of the crisis through the emission of EU-wide debt (“coronabonds” or “covidbonds”), a position that has been resisted by Germany and the Netherlands, and which led to the breakdown of the March 26 meeting of EU member-state leaders.

Sánchez and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte have since sent a joint letter to the Council of Europe President Charles Michel demanding the EU implement a “Marshall Plan” to rescue European economies from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next meeting of the Eurogroup, comprised of the finance ministers of the 27 EU member-states, has been charged with finding a compromise position between the demands of Europe’s “South” and the resistance of Germany and the Netherlands.

Could you give us a sense of what the situation (and the discussions) are like in Catalonia and the Spanish state more broadly?

Let’s start with the atmosphere in the street. Last weekend [March 21-22] was almost frightening—there was almost total silence there. For a Mediterranean city like Barcelona this is haunting, because the city is generally full of noise and life. Even the dogs seemed to be barking less.

As for discussion, the big one is about the intensity of lockdown needed to arrest the spread of the virus. While in the Spanish state most non-essential activities have been shut down and many factories have closed and temporarily laid off their workers, a grey area remains, with considerable economic activity still going on. 

For example, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy the local administration has locked down all except absolutely essential economic activity. Yet just across from where I live, a new school and a hotel complex continue to be built, even though the workers on the sites are unable to both do their job and maintain a safe distance from each other. It is likewise across the Spanish state. Another issue is transport: trains and buses still run, even if with reduced services. Private delivery services continue to run even as the state post office service has suspended operations.

By contrast, the Chinese government got the job done in Hubei province with draconian measures. When the joint WHO-Chinese delegation came to Lombardy on March 20, the head of the delegation, the doctor in charge of the strategy in Wuhan, was taken aback: “You’re not implementing policies of street closures, because public transport is still functioning, people are still circulating, you’re having parties and dinners in the hotels, and you’re not wearing masks!” It had to be explained to him that this was Italy, but the Italian and regional governments then acted on his message

A related issue is the degree of exception to the lockdown. Obviously, people have to be able to go out and buy food and leave the garbage in the outside bins. But what about walking the dog? That's proven to be a very useful pretext for getting out of doors The Barcelona dog and cat pound has experienced a surge of interest in people expressing concern for the rights of canines and wanting to give them a decent home! And there are a lot of lean looking dogs in town at the moment, fit after having been put through Olympic-level training for over a week. True, you can't have dogs stuck in flats all the time, but the “I’m-just-walking-the-dog” excuse is increasingly rejected.

In Catalonia, the part of the Spanish state where I live, the majority sentiment among epidemiologists, doctors and public health professionals is that the lockdown has to be more exacting. The basic setting has to be that everything—including production, transport and delivery services—must stop unless absolutely necessary (for example, emergency services, support for the elderly, distributing food to those who can't get it themselves, burial of the dead.) This discussion dominates the mainstream and social media: could more lives have been saved had more drastic measures been introduced sooner? Can such measures still save more lives if implemented now?

How is the Spanish public health system handling the crisis?

It’s clear that the more drastic the containment measures applied, the more lives will be saved and the less likely it will be that the peak of the epidemic will overwhelm the health system. Also, these measures have to be implemented together with a program of mass testing of the population, as done in South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Germany. The big problem at the moment is the shortage of equipment—masks, protective clothing, testing kits and, most critically, respirators—both within the health system but also in other areas where the virus is most virulent, such as aged care centres.

It’s becoming clear that the decision to centralise all procurement of medical supplies in the Spanish health ministry—taken as part of imposing the state of alert and supposedly aimed at producing quicker, fairer and cheaper access—has only replaced the functional system previously run by regional health administrations with one of overcentralised bureaucratic chaos. Promised equipment is not arriving on time and some that does arrive is even defective.

However, we can’t forget that this worldwide pandemic represents an enormous profit opportunity for medical clothing and equipment suppliers. There are reports here, for example, of mask prices quadrupling and pharmacies having to undertake to buy other material if they want to get surgical masks. The grotesque state of underpreparation of the US administration, for example, has produced a panic boost in global demand that threatens to overwhelm supply chains.

The public health systems in the Spanish state are extremely stressed but have not yet reached the point of collapse, although that awful scenario is approaching in the Madrid region and is just being held off in some regional hospitals in Catalonia. At the level of hospitals and health districts we are seeing an enormous effort to expand capacity, especially for intensive care patients needing artificial respiration. Basically, as much hospital capacity as possible is being given over to treating critical and very serious COVID-19 cases (up to 85% and including specialist units), while new wards for less serious cases are being opened up in sports centres and recovering patients are being shifted to medicalised hotels.

The message is also going out to people not to continue to regard hospital emergency services as just another community health centre (an unfortunate habit here). The message is to leave emergency services for COVID-19 sufferers, with separate hotlines now being provided for COVID-19 victims and for other emergencies. As a result, an apparently remarkable phenomenon has been taking place—in some regions the number of emergencies due, foe example, to heart attacks has fallen by over half. Some explain this rather cyncially as reduced supply calling forth reduced demand, but others attribute it to a heightened sense of responsibility growing within the broader population.

As I say, the stress is greatest in the Madrid region, which has experienced the biggest outbreak and accounts for over half of Spain’s 4000 deaths. The situation is also critical in Catalonia’s Conca d’Òdena, where a local lockdown is in place, the situation is also critical, to the point that the mayor of Igualada (the major regional city) is demanding testing of the whole population so as to better isolate the virus.

In this appalling context of equipment shortage, many small firms, families and individual citizens are trying to improvise support. For example, face mask sewing and distribution networks are being organised over the internet and textile companies are turning out doctors’ and nurses’ gowns. However, even where firms and the self-employed want to help they run into a problem—the raw material for these products mainly comes along Chinese supply lines and the Spanish end of most of these have closed down while the crisis lasts.

In Galicia and Catalonia, ad hoc consortia have been set up to produce basic respirators via 3D printing technology. The Catalan respirator has been certified by the Spanish ministry of health and 300 a day will soon be produced. It is too soon to say how much these will help, because the respirator shortage is the worst of all.

What is not yet clear is why major manufacturing and textile firms in the Spanish state have not been put under orders to produce protective equipment: this was done in war time and this emergency is no less critical.

The mortality rate in Spain is very high compared to Germany and other countries like South Korea. What explains this difference?

We have a discussion here about what the official figure of people infected really represent. These numbers measure people turning up in the health system and being diagnosed as infected. But we need proper testing to go on beyond the existing bounds of the system. If that is done, doctors and epidemiologists are convinced that it will be found that many more people are infected than in the official statistics. They say that the lack of testing is the main reason official Spanish statistics give the number of infected people as roughly the same as in Germany but the number of deaths in Spain as ten times greater. This can only mean that ten times as many infections are not detected in Spain as in Germany.

A lot of self-testing is occurring in Catalonia, but it’s still not enough. The Catalan Department of Health is broadcasting messages every hour on public media about what people can do if they have symptoms, but this cannot substitute for controlled mass testing of the kind that desperately needed in, for example, the Conca d’Òdena.

There have been reports here that the Spanish government of the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the more radical Unidas Podemos (UP) has nationalised hospitals to deal with the situation. What can you tell us about this? 

Private health provision are not very popular in Spain. The wealthier parts of the population use private hospitals, but mass sentiment towards private health provision runs against “these bastards who are making money out of people's health”. There's quite a strong undercurrent of opinion in favour of nationalising the whole health system.

However, no nationalisation of private health provision has taken place in this crisis: the private system has just been put under public control. Essentially, the main public hospitals have incorporated any private hospitals and resources in their region into their overall anti-COVID-19 operation. In Catalonia, where sentiment towards private health is often suspicious and hostile, the privates saw the chance to improve their image and quickly volunteered their services. 

This issue is most explosive in Madrid, where privatisation by stealth and underfunding of the system had gone furthest under regional PP governments and where the COVID-19 outbreak is the most devastating. The Madrid health authorities have taken over the equivalent of the Royal Easter Showground in Sydney and created a Chinese-style emergency hospital to deal with the huge number of people infected.

We will see what happens on this issue after the crisis has been overcome. Many feel that private hospitals should be enlisted to help but that they should not be paid their usual contract service fee—this is an emergency where all have to accept their share of the financial burden. The debate on the relationship between public and private healthcare will also reopen: will the dynamic be towards getting rid of private healthcare or towards reducing its weight? Or will matters return to where they were before the pandemic, with the privates nibbling away relentlessly at the edges of an underfunded public system? 

What is certain is that spending on public health will have to return to its levels before the 2008 economic crisis. Even conservative governments will be forced to accept that increase because of the generalised support that exists for public health. [Note: A March 26 survey by the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia found 95% support for increased financing of public health and medical research.]

What is the general sentiment towards the push for a lockdown?

It can be hard to gauge these things, but just from talking to people and going by social media, the basic sentiment I detect is that we just have to cop it; a plague has arrived and we have no choice but to do the right thing to overcome it. People accept that they have to stay at home.

As a result, a whole new world has developed online as much of social and cultural life now gets channelled through the Internet. The European Commission had to ask YouTube and Netflix to stop putting up high definition film footage because this occupies too much bandwidth; that gives some sense of the scale of this newly expanding social universe. 

At the same time, given that in the Mediterranean world the basic housing unit is the apartment in a block of flats that usually has small balconies for each flat, in many neighbourhoods social life like birthday parties for the children is getting shifted out onto these. They are also the site of lots of singing and improvised concerts to cater for all tastes, from opera to reggaeton!

Naturally enough, some people have been trying to get around the restrictions: the wealthy certainly tried it on last weekend when they jetted off to their second homes in Ibiza, Murcia and the Pyrenean ski slopes. But that's not happening this weekend because of police roadblocks and massive fines for travelling without just cause.

Many small businesses, which are hurting very badly, are also trying to get around the lockdown. In Spain the weight of small business is greater than in other European economies, with many surviving week-to-week and a lot of them really just self-employed people who present their activity in the guise of a “company”.

There are also economic areas where people don’t see why they have to shut down, understandably in some cases. Should the forthcoming fruit picking season be stopped and all that fruit just left to rot? Should single fisherpeople working coastal waters where they don’t come in touch with anyone have to stay at home?

We are seeing a very deeply felt sentiment of gratitude and solidarity with health workers, carers in aged people’s homes, supermarket workers, police, funeral parlour workers and anyone else who is essential to society surviving. These workers have to carry out the indispensable jobs while being permanently exposed to the chance of catching the virus. For example, as of March 20, over 1000 health workers in Catalonia alone had come down with COVID-19. 

However, in Catalonia this supportive response is affected by whether the police involved are the local Catalan police (the Mossos d’Esquadra), the Spanish Civil Guard or the Spanish National Police Corps (CNP). I was just reading that a Civil Guard was giving instructions in an inland town and when someone spoke to him in Catalan, the Civil Guard complained: “Don't talk to me in Catalan”. The person involved told him off and asked: “What are you charging me with?” The Civil Guard’s response was: “I can charge you with anything I like, this is a state of alert, we run the show.”

The Spanish army presence is suspected and resented in much of “peripheral Spain” (Catalonia, the Basque Country and, to a lesser extent, Galicia), as is the militarist rhetoric that is accompanying the Spanish government’s running of the lockdown. That goes down like a lead balloon, most of all in Catalonia, given the role of the Civil Guard and the CNP in the unsuccessful violent repression of the 2017 independence referendum. The rhetoric that the struggle against the virus is a Spanish-patriotic crusade provokes a society-wide allergic reaction among Catalans who don’t identify as Spanish.

For example, there’s a Spanish army decontamination unit in the Barcelona region at the moment. After decontaminating the main airport (El Prat) it was invited by the mayor of Badalona, of the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC, Catalan affiliate of the PSOE), to decontaminate areas of this largely working class industrial city, which lies just to the north of Barcelona. The appearance of Spanish army trucks caused a lot of disquiet, and the episode culminated in the administration of the local major hospital declining the unit’s kind offer to decontaminate the hospital itself.

The decontamination unit has been operating mainly in collaboration with PSC councils, and initially without coordination with the Catalan health authorities. However, its services have also been used by one pro-independence mayor desperate to fight the virus with any available means and it is now being treated as a useful resource by the Catalan government. 

Can you give us a sense of how unions and communities are organising or expressing solidarity in these times of crisis?

One very important example is that every night, at 8pm, across the whole Spanish state, people go out on their balconies and applaud the health workers. It's not just a token thing, the noise at times is deafening. It’s so universal now that parliamentary sessions—attended only by widely spaced party group leaders—are suspended so that the MPs can take part.

The loudest protest came last Friday [March 20], when we had the 8pm action to support health workers and then a cacerolazo [a protest involving banging pots and pans from windows and balconies] at 9pm when Spanish King Philip gave his special—and utterly vacuous—address to the nation. It was the loudest cacerolazo you've ever heard; it felt as if the whole of Barcelona was vibrating, with the city’s buildings shaking on their foundations. The size of this protest was due to the fact that the king had been discovered to be a beneficiary of the corrupt multi-million euro dealings with the Saudi monarchy of his father, King Juan Carlos. 

As far as the trade unions are concerned, they are focused on their members who are being temporarily stood down in their millions and on those bosses who are trying to use the temporary lay-off system to sack people outright. I don't get the sense that the unions as such are doing much in terms of broader community solidarity, but I’m not fully informed on the issue.

Much of that solidarity is organised through neighbourhood assemblies and committees, many of which began organising at the community level against the Franco dictatorship and have been the organisations traditionally leading the fight for better community facilities and services. Through such neighbourhood associations and other ad hoc groups—strong in Spain and particularly strong in Catalonia—people are volunteering and setting up networks to help the sick, the elderly and disabled in their area. 

My local neighbourhood committee has a detailed map up of all the people who need the most help and a list of volunteers. The aim is to make sure that no one is left alone, so they ring up, visit and speak over the intercom to make sure people are OK. 

We also see expressions of solidarity in supermarkets, at least at their local branch level, where the staff put up notices asking people to make sure that their neighbours are all OK and explaining that they can deliver food to those in need. 

Another noticeable reaction has been the response to the calls for retired medical personnel, doctors, nurses, and also final year medical degree students to volunteer. As medicalised hotels and converted sports centres are opened up as makeshift wards, many people will be needed to work there and also to deal with the fact that there's been a considerable loss of hospital workers who have contracted the virus.

What kind of economic measures has the government enacted, keeping in mind it is a PSOE-UP coalition?

These are the main points of Spanish government’s March 17 decree detailing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • All workers laid off because of the crisis to be able to get unemployment benefits, irrespective of whether they are up to date with their social security contributions. Employers to guarantee at least six months of work to laid-off workers upon reassumption of work. . [Note: The Spanish government later decreed that employers would have to pay 33 days pay instead of 20 days pay for every year of service to workers they sack during the crisis. This was confusingly sold by labour minister Yolanda Diaz (UP) as a “ban on sackings”.]

  • Guarantee of electricity, water and gas supplies to households unable to meet bills.

  • Suspension of mortgage repayment obligations for those unable to meet them.

  • Ban on telecommunications providers suspending access to the internet and mobile phone networks.

  • Various forms of financial support to business, including a reduction in employer contributions to the social security fund.

  • Relaxation of business deadlines for payment of taxes.

  • Modification of the obligations of business to meet public contracts on time and partial compensation for losses incurred

  • Suspension of the obligations of public and listed companies with regard to meetings and reporting

  • Restrictions on foreign acquisition of Spanish assets resulting from bankruptcies due to the crisis

  • Creation of a €300 million hardship fund.

These measures are claimed to amount to the biggest public spending package since World War II. The government has said it will mobilise 200 billion euros, which is 20% of Spanish GDP. Of that 83 billion will come from the private sector and 117 billion euros will be public funding. The bulk of this money will be devoted to keeping private economic providers from drowning under rapidly rising levels of debt.

Spain’s social safety net is going to help broad sections of the community scrape by, but many, in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, will fall through it unless other emergency measures are put in place. Together we are looking at around 3-4 million people because the net has big holes when it comes to the self-employed and casual labour, particularly in a major industry like tourism, with its largely female and migrant workforce.

For example, hotels in Spain are mainly cleaned by Latina and Filipina women. Often, these workers don’t just sustain a family here but also sends remittances back to their country of origin. Such women, who are casuals on contracts as short as one day and who are also sometimes formally “illegal”, have been fighting through their own union for permanency and decent wages. Spanish unions have denounced that unscrupulous bosses are already using their right to temporarily lay off workers to sack them outright.

The self-employed are another group that are going to miss out unless the support is changed. With a social security system based on individual contributions, a lot of self-employed people have just skimped on covering themselves and will not register as liable to the unemployment benefit during the crisis. And, again, there are the hundreds of thousands in the “informal sector”—those impoverished, marginalised people who survive, for example, by running illegal stalls around markets or by recycling material from rubbish bins.

While mortgage payments on the first home are to be suspended, a bigger problem is that a majority of people pay rent and nothing so far has changed in this area. The Mortgage Victims Platform (PAH) has said there should be a moratorium on rent so long as the crisis lasts. .

Many are also asking what is going to be done once COVID-19 arrives in prisons. The response, to date, has been that there will be a lockdown! Prison guards are saying they don't have enough safety equipment, so there's potential there for a very bad situation. 

The pandemic has at least helped one oppressed group: refugees held in detention centres have been released because they can’t be sent back “home”, and the vast majority have places where they can stay in Spain, that place being where they were originally arrested for being “illegal”.

Where is the funding for all this spending going to come from?

The Spanish government will, in the short term, fund these measures by increasing the deficit, which will be allowed through a suspension of that holy of holies, the European Union’s Growth and Stability Pact, under which member states are required to meet deficit reduction targets. This, however, will be insufficient, so that the EU member states who suffered most in the 2008-2014 crisis are certain to demand increased EU funding, in turn inevitably re-igniting North-South tensions within the EU, as happened at the time of the Greek, Portuguese and Irish bailouts after the financial crisis.

Importantly, the question of finding the enormous funds that will be needed to counter the COVID-19 crisis not only has the potential to explode the legitimacy of the EU’s own neoliberal rules of the game (such as no issuing of Europe-wide debt, so-called “Covidbonds”): it also puts the spotlight on the actual possibility of carrying out a properly funded sustainability transition. If such huge sums can be conjured up to keep business on its feet during the COVID-19 pandemic, why can’t they be mobilised for a serious sustainability plan, a genuine Green New Deal? Having conceded that public spending must surge to help the economy survive and recover, it becomes very hard to argue against similar investment being directed towards sustainable energy and transport, conversion from industrial agriculture to locally-based organic agriculture and all the other measures people increasingly know are needed to make economy and society sustainable.

What has been the impact of the crisis on politics in the Spanish state?

Behind the Spanish-patriotic pantomime of everyone pulling together to defeat the virus, the crisis had increased tension along all the main faultlines of politics in the Spanish state, most importantly that of the challenge to Spanish state unity represented by the Catalan struggle for self-determination. The fact that elections are due in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia has increased this tension even more, as all parties, both Spain-wide and national, jostle to prove their anti-COVID-19 credentials.

For example, the pro-independence Catalan coalition government of Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) has been insisting for over a week now that the Spanish government introduce a complete lockdown and seal off Catalonia and Madrid (the two main centres of infection). The Catalan government has already done this internally for five towns in the Conca d’Òdena.

In taking this stance the Catalan administration has found some unusual allies, including the government of Murcia, which is a right-wing coalition between the traditional right People’s Party (PP) and new populist right, Citizens, supported from outside by the far-right Vox party. [Note: At the March 23 weekly emergency hook-up of Spain’s 17 regional premiers with prime minister Pedro Sánchez, four other regions (“autonomous communities”) are said to have supported the Catalan position.] 

Even in this life-and-death situation the main obsession of Spanish politics never goes away. The Spanish state and government just cannot appear to be making concessions to, or following the example of, a Catalan administration. For example, after the Spanish government rejected the Catalan government’s call for isolation of Catalonia, it agreed to an effective lockdown of the Balearic Islands, cutting off nearly all flights and ferry connections to and between Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. When approached by the Balearic Islands PSOE government with the same arguments as Catalonia’s, Madrid had no problem in yielding. [Note: On March 26, when the Catalan government imposed a complete lockdown in the Conca d’Òdena, the Spanish health minister, Catalan Salvador Illa, overruled the measure.]

For their part, the Spanish right-wing bloc of the People’s Party (PP), Citizens and Vox is having difficulty combining support for measures they support—such as a “state of alert” involving the armed forces, Civil Guard and CNP—while presenting themselves as “more-patriotic-than-thou” compared to the PSOE. The PSOE government itself, operating via an emergency ministerial committee without any UP representatives, has taken to holding press conferences where we see government ministers standing alongside the heads of the security forces. 

Having effectively swapped its UP partner in government for a tacit alliance with the PP, the PSOE has seized the opportunity to present itself as Spain’s saviour-party. At the same time Spanish-state institutions like the railway network RENFE have launched ad campaigns about how “we”, united, will defeat the virus. It’s not clear what role the rail system can actually have in conquering COVID-19.

The PP’s stance is that a lot of questions will have to be answered once the crisis ends, but that now is not the moment: now is the time for every Spanish patriot to come out and support “España eterna” (“eternal Spain”, words of PP leader Pablo Casado). At the same time, Citizens has effectively disappeared and Vox just repeats that the government is incompetent and the army has to be sent in. More army, especially in Catalonia, that is the Vox treatment against COVID-19, along with the recentralisation of “all the powers” of the Catalan government, the suspension of pardons for the Catalan political prisoners and the expulsion from Spain of irregular immigrants. How such measures could help arrest the spread of COVID-19 is also not too clear.

For a while, Vox also tried talking Trump-style about the “Chinese epidemic” but I sense this just lost them support, because they’ve stopped now. There has not been much overt anti-Chinese racism here, even though a lot of Chinese businesses have thought it wiser to close down for “holidays”. (Those who are into racism in the Spanish state would be more likely to blame each other—Catalans, Basques, Castilians, Galicians etc—than they would the Chinese. COVID-19 also has nothing to do with Spanish racism’s other favourite scapegoat, the “Moors”.)

As for King Philip—Spain’s own corona (crown in Spanish) virus—he has been using his international business connections to show that the corrupt Bourbon monarchy actually has a social function. A March 20 media release from the Zarzuela palace let the country know that the king’s mate Jack Ma, boss of Chinese internet distribution giant Alibaba, was sending Spain half a million surgical masks. At the same time, Philip’s March 21 address to the nation called for laying aside differences and Spanish unity in the face of the “enemy”.

What is the sense among people about what the future holds?

Among some people there is a sentiment that this will all be over in a month and we'll just go back to normal again. But among others, probably still a minority, the sentiment is growing that we can't go on living as per usual, that society and economy as presently run can't go on devouring, despoiling and cooking the planet. 

Many people I know are increasingly joining the dots between the environmental, social, human health and democratic rights dimensions of the crisis, most of all epitomised for us in Spain by the European Union’s horrifically sadistic treatment of refugees. Another discussion that is now moving into “the mainstream” is the impossibility of living off an industrial agriculture model where animals are just treated as food inputs and where this obscenity and the destruction of what is left of wild nature inevitably generates pathogens that pass across to human beings. The comforting idea that there will always be, sooner or later, another vaccine is also increasingly doubted.

These trends all add up to a sort of of anti-systemic consciousness, although it doesn't call itself that, a consciousness that life itself is under threat . The COVID-19 pandemic shows that there’s nowhere to hide, no “gated suburb”, “gated region” or “gated nation” for the lucky few. Ebola, SARS and MERS were kept out in “the periphery”, but now the enemy is inside the gates.

Here in the Spanish state, as elsewhere, there will be a struggle between those political forces that want to “change everything so that everything stays the same” (like the PSOE) , and those who believe matters must be transformed radically and organically. The PSOE has signed up to its own version of a “green transition”, but in it the Spanish big multinationals and too-big-to-fail banks get to stay, the question of growth can’t be raised and radical income redistribution is unthinkable.

In short, many more people grasp that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a passing, if horrific, problem, but that it reflects a general crisis of the way we live. In this sense, it feels here as if the pandemic represents a turning point in politics for the whole planet. People intuit that new COVIDs will keep coming so long as capital’s unquenchable thirst for profit rules all our lives.