As the quarantine lengthens, the question of how we will launch the country again becomes increasingly important.
Today we have learned that Pedro Sánchez will ask the Congress of Deputies to extend the State of Alarm for at least 15 more days. While discussing the increase in restrictions following in the wake of the latest Italian measures, there is one issue that the decision to extend quarantine postpones, but does not eliminate: when all this is over, how do we get society up and running again without accelerating? new the epidemic?
It is not a theoretical or free question. "Social distancing", the strategy that most countries in the world are following to "flatten the curve", is based on the idea that the progress of the epidemic can be cut by cutting off its contagion. The data we have so far tells us that it works, but what will happen when we return to everyday life? Will the virus return?
Quarantine and Post-quarantine in China
Unfortunately, we don't have too many answers on how to undo the coronavirus quarantine. Countries such as Korea or Taiwan have not enacted a ban on leaving home, nor have shops and restaurants been closed. This is important because, as we have seen during these months, small changes in the behavior of the virus can generate radically different social effects. To the point of forcing countries like the United Kingdom to abandon their previous strategies and assume, themselves, social distancing and quarantine.
In that sense, the great example of quarantine is China. On January 23, after verifying the size of the problem they were facing and that the outbreak was out of control, the Chinese Government closed the city of Wuhan. Literally. As of 10 am on the same day, all public transport in the city was suspended. Wuhan Airport, railway station and subway were closed and residents were prohibited from leaving the city without permission from the authorities. It didn't work.
The warning sparked an exodus from Wuhan, and an estimated 300,000 of the 11 million people who lived in the city left there before the 10 o'clock closure. As a result, on the 24th, the government closed another 15 cities and stepped on the I brake in the whole country taking advantage of the fact that on January 25 the Lunar New Year was celebrated, one of those great annual festivities that paralyzed the country's economy.
During these days we have reviewed how the epidemic was in China, but it is still difficult to get an idea of the level of confinement that was reached in the province of Hubei. It is not that the cities had become "ghost cities", it is that the Chinese authorities divided cities, towns and rural areas into watertight compartments. The closure was not 'metaphorical', but physical: with streets cut with fences of several meters and checkpoints to move from one neighborhood to another if necessary.
In Wuhan, government medical teams toured the city house-to-house to check on their tenants, detect the infected, and confine them to wards and quarantine centers. In other areas of the country, the measures were less severe and, although much of the country was compartmentalized and sank the social life of large areas, thanks to technological means (the famous QR) economic and working life could be maintained, despite difficulties.
Economic life could be maintained, yes; but not at a level high enough that the country was not heading into recession. For this reason, since the end of February, China began to restart the economy in the least affected regions, although without completely easing the social distancing measures. Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province remained essentially unemployed and have been until early March, although there were vast areas that had not registered a new case in almost a month.
But finally, the strict measures of Wuhan and Hubei are being lifted. In this case, the strategy that China is carrying out is to maintain the compartmentalization of the zones, but to make the passage of people within the cities more flexible. In the same way, the province of Hubei is beginning to introduce the measures that were followed in the rest of the country allowing movements on the street and monitoring citizens with the health codes (which in Hubei had not been introduced because the quarantine was total).
What can we expect from the Spanish case?
In other words, the Chinese Government is allowing it to return to daily life while maintaining the infrastructure that allows the isolation of neighborhoods, cities and regions. The idea is that, if a return to normal life resuscitated the epidemic, it could be easy to block these outbreaks in highly localized areas, and thus ensure that post-quarantine recovery processes do not have to be stopped at once.
What can we expect from the Spanish case? It is difficult to say because it is difficult to know with what level measures and blockade we will reach during the quarantine. We have seen how Italy has been raising the aggressiveness of its restrictions for weeks as the outbreak showed no signs of slowing down. Taking this into account, it is so true that last week Spain introduced a quarantine that was tougher than that of its surrounding countries, and that there would still be many measures to take if the epidemic does not slow down in the coming days. This evolution will depend not only on the depth of the crisis, but also on the speed of the health, social and economic recovery.
What is certain is that it does not seem reasonable to expect a quick recovery, nor a simple return to everyday life. The day the epidemic reaches its peak we can have a clearer vision of what the end of the quarantine will be like, but the news that reaches us from China (and from other countries) is stubborn: as in the fight against the virus Most of the things about the lap are yet to be learned.
Image | Martin Sanchez