The second wave hits the international image of Spain

In few countries the virus has been unleashed as much as in the United States. But its president, Donald Trump, that if he is famous for something, it is not precisely because of his knowledge of international geography, is worried about Spain. “In the last five weeks the cases per capita […] They went up more than 300% in Spain, (a country) that I’ve been hearing things about and I’ve been talking to some of the leaders in Spain, and they are having a hard time, “he said just a few days ago.” Spain is having a great impact [la pandemia]”, he concluded. If the president of the United States, the country with the most cases of coronavirus in the world, speaks of Spain, it is that something is wrong. And he has some reason: in the last week, Spain has already surpassed the US in new daily cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Hence, the magnet for international press headlines.

“Spain, the country most affected in Europe by the second wave “ (‘Le Monde’). “Why Spain is being hit harder than the rest of Europe” (‘Financial Times’). “Blind measures” (‘Sueddeutsche Zeitung’). “The coronavirus is spreading faster in Spain than in the US” (‘New York Times’). “France and Spain fail the coronavirus test” (Bloomberg). “No country in Western Europe has been as affected by the coronavirus pandemic as Spain” (‘Spiegel’). “The hospitals of Madrid, pushed to the edge [del colapso]” (‘The Guardian’).

On September 7, Spain reached a sad record by being the first European country to cross the threshold of half a million cases of coronavirus. Virtually all the international media picked up on the milestone. These are the headlines that draw, at least on the external borders, the second wave of the coronavirus in Spain. Yes in march the viral and news focus in the western world was Italy, Lombardy or New York, now it’s Spain and Madrid. Those are the headlines that, we imagine, Trump and his team read.

“The image of Spain suffered a severe blow with the last crisis and has suffered an even worse one in this one. Spain had been trying to get rid of it for a long time. stereotypes about its inefficiency, unpredictability, and botched culture “, says to this newspaper David Jiménez, a Spanish journalist who publishes columns in the ‘New York Times’ and the author of the controversial article “In Spain, nightlife is more important than schools“He was not the only one: much of the international press has attributed the dizzying second wave to large bottles (‘Le Monde’ made special emphasis) or to the rapid reopening of bars, restaurants and discotheques in closed spaces (measures that in other countries have not occurred or were more delayed) in the de-escalation.

The change in perception has been rapid. When at the end of July the Government of Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom imposed a 14-day quarantine To all travelers coming from Spain, the decision was received as a scandal both by the press and by British politicians themselves, who criticized “the chaos” of the measure, one more example of the Johnson’s “misguided management.” at a time when many parts of Spain “were better than the UK.” It is difficult to imagine that so much dust would have arisen today if the Johnson government imposed similar restrictions, as many other countries of the European Union have already imposed them against travelers coming from Spain.

Faults through foreign eyes

Faced with this situation, the big question is: what have we done wrong compared to the rest of the countries? “Spanish management has seemed uneven to me over time”, explains Michael Reid, correspondent for ‘The Economist’ in Spain. “The confinement started a few days late. Later, the social compliance was admirable and the president showed an important leadership. Clearly in the confinement there was a great oversight, with a too rapid relaxation of leisure and hospitality standards, combined with insufficient preparation (trackers , etc.) and coordination between levels of government “.

“Having confined so harshly has been counterproductive. Spain was the only country in Europe where you couldn’t go out for an hour and it punished its children without leaving,” says Henry de Laguérie, correspondent in Spain for the French-speaking channel Europe 1. “In addition, from the beginning all the focus has been placed on the citizenry. Perhaps mismanagement has been covered up. It is clear that the citizenry has to be responsible in the fight against the virus, but this does not exempt from political responsibilities “.

People in the Usera neighborhood, Madrid.  (Reuters)People in the Usera neighborhood, Madrid.  (Reuters)
People in the Usera neighborhood, Madrid. (Reuters)

In addition to a rapid lack of refinement, the “rebound effect” or blaming the new wave of infections on nightlife and management problems, foreign correspondents who reside in Spain and know the country’s administrative system have emphasized the Spanish peculiarity that it is the communities, not the central government, who have the key competencies in the pandemic. With the lifting of the state of alarm and the culmination of the phases of disarray in the communities, to whom the competences in Health were returned, the central government, according to consulted correspondents, disappeared. Something that surprises the international public.

This “disappearance” of the Government in the management of this second wave of coronavirus has taken a toll. Bloomberg, one of the main international news agencies, reflected the situation in several articles on the matter: “His absence created the impression that the government had no rudder at a time when coronavirus infection rates were increasing at a faster rate. than anywhere else in Europe. Spain’s struggle to contain the resurgence of the pandemic has been complicated by the practice of delegating authority. Health policy is usually managed by the 17 regional governments, and the central administration in Madrid is limited to a flexible coordination function. “

“A wrong calculation”

“After having appeared too much during the state of alarm, Pedro Sánchez simply disappeared from the management of the pandemic, first celebrating the European fund and then taking vacations (to which he is entitled, of course). It seemed to me a wrong calculation by Moncloa to think that the Spanish would place all the blame for the outbreaks on the Autonomous Communities”, asevera Reid.

However, that calculation that it could perhaps be effective internally, it is unlikely that it will sell internationally, where the media and the public are unaware of the particularities of the Spanish territorial organization and its powers. In the end, the image is that of Spain as the focus of the coronavirus in Western Europe. And it may not matter As happened in July with the accumulated cases of the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands much lower than those of the United Kingdom, that the epidemiological situation in Asturias is fine while “the virus is rampant in Madrid” (‘Der Spiegel’, Germany).

“My feeling is that Spain is like the European Union, that each autonomous community is free. It is not a complete federal model like Germany or a complete centralist model like France, “says De Laguérie.

The pandemic has put all the world’s health systems into question. This globality is what can dampen the image of Spain

“The media reflect the contagion data in informative terms, another thing is the field of opinion. The Government of Spain is making a notable communication effort to explain what is being done, the decisions and measures that are adopted at all times “, defend sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Global Spain to this newspaper. Even so, they are” very attentive “to the possible danger to the image of Spain.” It must be taken into account that the pandemic happens in all countries, not just in Spain. In fact, this pandemic process has put all the world’s health systems into question. This process of comparison and globality is what can cushion a possible impact “, they affirm.

The external image of Spain, in fact, fared relatively well from the first wave of the coronavirus, according to the Country RepTrak 2020 survey carried out by the Elcano Royal Institute together with the Reputation Institute, prepared with 33,000 interviews in 122 countries last March. According to this survey, Spain had managed to keep its image as a country stable. Then, Spain was always behind Italy and soon New York overtook it in cases and mortality.

However, it is not the same situation in the second wave: “If Italy was the harbinger of the first wave in Europe, Spain is the harbinger of the second” (‘The New York Times’), “Spain, caught off guard low on virus resurgence “(‘Wall Street Journal’). Now, Madrid (and Spain) is the curve that is referred to as “the negative example.” Even with New York, the former epicenter of the pandemic and which seems to have managed to control the horses of the second wave.

The key may be here if Spain has been only “the canary in the mine” of the second waves in Western Europe, that is, if they will soon spread to other countries. The UK Health Minister has already stated that they are observing the case of Spain with caution as a prediction of what may happen in the coming weeks in the UK, and France is also experiencing a spike in infections. If a second wave with strong outbreaks and a return to images of saturated health services and hospitals is global and generalized, the image of Spain will not remain as “the bad example”.

In the management of the first wave, Spain joined the club of extremely polarized countries they managed the first wave very poorly. With the cases of Brazil, United States and United Kingdom, analysts such as David Jiménez argue that there is a correlation between political anger and mismanagement of a pandemic in which both the government and the opposition have struggled to carry the dead to the adversary instead of being accountable for the mistakes made and learning the lesson of face to future sprouts.

“The worst thing for me has been to see how, as in 11-M, the two Spains hit each other on the corpses of the victims“Jiménez assures us.” We are an ideologically ill country and that allows our politicians to emerge unscathed from their incompetence. On the contrary: they can allow themselves to be incompetent because they know that their management will not have political or electoral consequences, even less in a society as polarized as this one. And that is a great difference with neighboring countries, where the concept of political responsibility is ingrained. “

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