Why did the corona virus hit hard in Italy and Spain? Some accuse a lack of social distance – and a lot of social kissing.

BARCELONA, Spain – When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a country currently blocked with over 17,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, took the podium in Madrid’s parliament on Wednesday to announce a $ 220 billion package that Micol Maria de Vincenti warned that his country’s tourism industry should know that “the worst is yet to come”.

“I thought:” What does Sánchez do in parliament – his wife tests positive, he should stay at home! “Says the Italian-born engineer who has lived in Madrid for decades. It doesn’t matter that most parliamentarians skipped the Wednesday session in the Spanish capital, where an average of four people now die from COVID-19 every hour.” If the Spanish Head of State breaks his own quarantine, this is not a good example. “

De Vincenti was not the only one who was amazed at the apparent lack of urgency of the coronavirus in Spain, where the number of cases started to increase three weeks ago and concepts such as social detachment only came into the discussion this week. This recommendation still does not appear in the Ministry of Health recommendations.

A young couple kiss in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)A young couple kiss in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
A young couple kiss in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

The World Health Organization now sees Spain as the epicenter of coronavirus transmission, along with Italy, which has registered more than 41,000 cases, more than any country except China. Spain is well on the way to surpassing Iran as the country with the third most common cases within a few days.

And exactly the characteristics that make Spain and Italy so popular with tourists – the relaxed attitude, the warmest regards, the world-famous cathedrals, museums and historical sites, the stadiums filled for football matches, the terraces where hundreds gather for aperitifs, sangria and meals – that may have helped drive the spread of the coronavirus in this part of the world. “The main transmission takes place via droplets,” says Dr. Sylvie Briand, a senior epidemiologist at the World Health Organization in Geneva. “When speaking to people, we recommend that you keep at least a distance of at least one distance [3 feet]. So if you kiss or get close to people, the risk of transmission is high. “If Spain has not explicitly warned against kissing in greeting, she says:” It should be done – it is very important. “Reducing the size of the meeting is also crucial,” she says We do not recommend large gatherings, where healthy people and people who may be infected mingle nearby, in cases that are spread across its population. “They are just statistics,” she says.

Italy also has one of the oldest population groups in the world with an average age of 45.5 years; It is 42.1 in Spain and 38.1 in the USA. Almost a quarter of citizens in both European countries still smoke. The rate in the US is closer to one in seven. Both factors could have contributed to the spread or severity of COVID-19.

A woman walks her dog in the Raval neighborhood in Barcelona on Wednesday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)A woman walks her dog in the Raval neighborhood in Barcelona on Wednesday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
A woman walks her dog in the Raval neighborhood in Barcelona on Wednesday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

In contrast to Italy, where the authorities quickly took measures to block the part of the country where the Coronavirus was first spread in Europe, followed by the whole country, the Spanish government seemed slow to respond.

That has changed in the past few days.

“People didn’t take it seriously here,” says restaurateur Lee Anthony, whose terrace restaurant in Barcelona was full of festive parties on Friday, but was closed the next day when Spain declared an alarm – formwork bars, theaters, parks, and beaches and the like Spaniards tell them to stay at home, except to shop for essentials or do their jobs.

Private individuals such as the Barcelona artist Mark Rios, whose friends traveled freely to Italy for events such as the Milan Fashion Week, which started on February 18, took matters into their own hands. To make his friends laugh, Rios bought a face mask three weeks ago. “The people in Italy got sick and the visitors drove back to or flew over the border to Spain – without questions, without temperature monitoring at airports,” says Rios.

People in the Barcelona metro system on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)People in the Barcelona metro system on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
People in the Barcelona metro system on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

However, the Spanish health authorities did not share the alarm and instead emphasized the calm, which subsequently appears as a rejection. In the second week of February, the organizers of one of the world’s largest technology conferences, the Mobile World Congress, which brings over 100,000 exhibitors and participants from all over the world to Barcelona, ​​began to worry about the epidemic. The Mayor of Barcelona, ​​Ada Colau, dismissed her concerns and promised plenty of hand sanitizers and medical staff at the event, which will contribute over $ 500 million to the local economy. The organizers of the conference have taken steps themselves, including blocking participants who have been in China for the past two weeks, and then canceling. Spanish health minister Salvador Illa scoffed: “There is no need to take any action other than the action taken,” said Illa, a former town mayor who had no experience in public health or medicine.

A Spaniard who refused to be identified told Yahoo News that a relative, a national government official, complained last week that his office had been cleaned thoroughly for the corona virus. “Do you think that exists at all?” asked the government official.

People on balconies in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)People on balconies in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
People on balconies in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

Even when Italy confiscated its north on February 22 and Spain saw a sudden surge in coronavirus cases, especially among citizens who had visited Italy at the time, health officials claimed there was no reason to close museums, cancel political rallies, or cancel important soccer games or in other ways discourage tourism, which accounts for around 16 percent of GDP. When a Spanish journalist who traveled with the team from Valencia to Milan on 19 February fell ill with COVID-19, the Spanish health authorities allowed the games to continue – although they recommended playing against Italian teams in Spain without spectators.

The medical team of an ambulance is wearing special contagion suits in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)The medical team of an ambulance is wearing special contagion suits in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
The medical team of an ambulance is wearing special contagion protection suits in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

“We acted far too late here,” says Kerry Jessop from Barcelona. “That should have been nipped in the bud at the time.”

Spanish health authorities have been cautious of demonstrations such as the one on March 8th International Women’s Day, when hundreds of thousands marched side by side in Madrid, or large-scale political rallies held by an ultra-right party, Vox, on March 7th in Madrid. “They kept saying: ‘Keep calm, there is nothing wrong – it is only in Italy,” recalls de Vincenti.

So cheek kissing continued in Spain, along with the football games, the parties, and even the tourists, even though the Americans flocked or tried to leave after President Trump confusingly announced last week that he would block entry from Europe to the United States.

The Mossos d'Esquadra police arrested a skateboarder on Wednesday for violating the rules of detention in Barcelona. (José Colon for Yahoo News)The Mossos d'Esquadra police arrested a skateboarder on Wednesday for violating the rules of detention in Barcelona. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
The Mossos d’Esquadra police arrested a skateboarder on Wednesday for violating the rules of detention in Barcelona. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

The alarm bells finally rang in Spain last week when Spanish politician Javier Ortega Smith, Secretary General of Vox, the country’s third most popular party, tested positive for the corona virus. The party apologized to the 9,000 supporters who had attended their rally the day before and announced that its 52 representatives in the House of Commons would stay home as a precaution. On that day, both houses of Parliament were virtually closed – not for health reasons but because it was not democratic to meet with an entire absent party.

Then came the news that Vox party leader Santiago Abascal was also running positive tests – news that didn’t please Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who met Abascal in late February when he visited the U.S. and was already in self-quarantine was after possible exposure to the virus. Abascal attended the annual conservative political action conference in which Trump and other government officials and Republican officials attended.

It wasn’t just Vox party members who tested positive. Spain was the national minister for equality, several members of the Barcelona City Council, the president of the Catalonia region – and the wife of Prime Minister Sánchez.

The Mossos d'Esquadra police patrol the streets of Barcelona on Wednesday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)The Mossos d'Esquadra police patrol the streets of Barcelona on Wednesday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
The Mossos d’Esquadra police patrol the streets of Barcelona on Wednesday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

Although Spain restricted several small communities that were considered hot spots in the country, while cases emerged in each region when news came that several players from the Valencia team had infected the coronavirus, it was not the health authorities that would announce football matches in Spain to be canceled indefinitely – it was the football league itself that made the decision.

However, dramatic steps have been taken until last Friday. Sánchez appeared on television, announced an “alarm condition,” and urged residents to stay at home except to buy the bare necessities or to work when they could not work from home. Which meant only one thing for many: party! Even on Saturday, the Spaniards still kissed on the cheeks and met in tiny apartments. Even on Saturday, some went out to eat, including an entrepreneur who asked that her name not be used. She only realized the seriousness of the situation when the restaurant, where she shared tapas with visiting guests, closed in the middle of the meal. “They told everyone to put their napkins in their wine glass and they would close.”

This week in Spain, bouncers, couriers and cashiers from supermarkets have been wearing masks since the block began – a rarity just four days ago. This week, Lucie Gutziamanis, who works for a law firm in Barcelona, ​​says only a few kiss – “everyone looks at each other like they have leprosy.”

Buyers are queuing at a supermarket in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)Buyers are queuing at a supermarket in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
Buyers are queuing at a supermarket in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

In Italy, where residents have been locked up for 10 days, they stick to it but get tired. Lorenzo Dell’Aiuto in Florence says he wishes the government would simply test everyone as they did in South Korea. “In this way, healthy people can continue to work,” he says.

Katia Maronati, like many in Milan, has gotten used to the long lines in grocery stores where shoppers are at least a meter apart and security only allows 10 people in supermarkets at a time. There have been mistakes, she admits, but the Italian government has never tried to hide the truth from people and, like most Italians, believes that blocking is the best, although the cases are still increasing.

“The highlight of the day for us is now 6:00 am,” she said – as Italians gather on their balconies to sing together.

Spaniards also gather on their balconies and step outside at 8:00 p.m. to applaud health workers fighting the corona virus while ships in the harbor join in with their horns. The Spanish authorities warn that the 15-day ban could last well into April or longer. And just five days later, the local Barcelona police have imposed over 2,000 fines and sent over 10,000 warnings to those who have already got bored of Spain’s ban.

A woman claps to support the doctors fighting the coronavirus in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)A woman claps to support the doctors fighting the coronavirus in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)
A woman claps to support the doctors fighting the coronavirus in Barcelona on Thursday. (José Colon for Yahoo News)

Cover picture: Yahoo News; Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP via Getty Images

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