2 August 2020 – Sunday – #106

On Friday, I looked at the Covid-19 new infection numbers in Catalonia. They were leveling off. Not as much as I’d hoped, but it seems that the government’s re-imposition of restrictions is keeping Covid-19 at bay for now.

I decided to go ahead with a planned visit to friends in Canet de Mar yesterday. Such are the risk assessments now associated with travel.

The Catalan health authorities seemed to agree with me. They lifted some restrictions in Barcelona and Lleida that they’d put in place to avert a second wave of Covid-19.

Spain, however, is not out of the woods. Between seasonal agricultural workers with poor living conditions, youthful bar hoppers, and tourists, two of the curves below are headed in the wrong direction and the third will turn up soon.

Spanish Covid-19 confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths through 22 July. Source: El País,

The good news making travel decisions is that Spanish Covid-19 data should be more accurate now. Unlike three or four months ago, the healthcare system isn’t swamped and testing capacity is up. The Spanish Covid-19 death toll has been revised up to 44,868 after the government had time to comb through its data. With better data, the question is what data to use when making decisions to travel. Or even just to leave the apartment.

Brad pointed out, for instance, that there are data for each health jurisdiction. I had two reasons not to use that data when I decided to take the train to Canet de Mar. The health jurisdiction data do show local hotspots to avoid, but they are also probably at least two days out of date. So, you could decide it was safe to travel somewhere only to find out two or three days later that the safe place you visited turned into a hotspot while you were there.

Systematically, the agency that controls my Covid-19 health is the Catalan public health authority. Covid-19 outbreaks are bound to flare up here and there, so the real question is not whether I can identify the safe places to go by local data, but whether my Covid-19 health authority has the right systems in place to manage these outbreaks. In other words, since I’ll never know for sure if I’m headed towards a hotspot, looking at the Covid-19 situation in all of Catalonia is a better gauge of whether my health authority has the right systems to keep me safe.

Speaking of travel decisions, Brad is on a flight from SFO to CDG as I type. That comes with all kinds of risk assessments. He had a negative Covid-19 test last week, but it’s not clear whether that helps either clearing customs or quarantining once he arrives at Casa Solar. Both of us are pretty sure that he can clear immigrations with the long-term visa no lucrativa in his passport. His bags have been checked through to BCN, so it’s not clear whether he will clear customs in Paris (will the French honor a Spanish long-term visa?) or in Barcelona. Nicole says he clears customs in Paris and his bags clear in BCN. I’ll have updates next week. [UPDATE: Brad’s through immigrations at CDG and at the gate for his flight to BCN].

The big Covid-19 news this week are Q2 economic results. Spain’s economy contracted 18.5% quarter over quarter. The US economy contracted by 9.5%. By comparison, the EU economy contracted by 12%. The largest economy in the EU is Germany whose economy contracted by just over 10%.

Sweden is the EU country that attempted less heavy handed Covid-19 restrictions. The Swedish economy contracted by over 6%. That looks good compared to the EU, but Sweden’s neighbor Denmark, which had strict Covid-19 restrictions, is estimated to see its economy contract about the same amount.

The enormity of these economic contractions has to change the world. Things limped along in the second quarter, but I expect big ticket items like mortgage defaults and rental evictions to start breaking significantly in this quarter. The good news is that governments seem to be loosening their economic policies instead of tightening them, as was the case in the 2008 economic meltdown. The hard work is getting economies moving again.

The economic advantage the EU has over the US is that it can open up most of its economy as long as it contains Covid-19 outbreaks. The US, on the other hand, has seen the first wave of its Covid-19 epidemic rebound. US Covid-19 deaths are back above one thousand a day and, if unchecked, the US will have the worst per capita Covid-19 death rate in the world by election day. The extended first wave of Covid-19 will keep the US from fixing its economy.

Which brings me back to my Canet de Mar visit.

View of the Mediterranean Sea from the Canet de Mar train station, 1 August 2020.

I took the train from Barcelona. The ride there was less crowded than the ride back because everyone leaves the coastal beaches about the same time to return to Barcelona. As with my recent trip to El Masnou, pretty much everyone was wearing a mask. There was the couple sharing a kiss, though. That’s an awkward situation.

Part of the discussion with my Canet de Mar friends was about how much better things seem to be working in Spain right now. Everything, and I mean everything, is politicized in the US.

In Spain, people wear their masks. Occasionally, I count the people wearing masks along a random block in Barcelona. The counts this week have been well over 90% wearing masks, up from even the end of the lockdown.

In the US, people are breaking other people’s legs, stabbing each other, and peeing on the floor because they don’t want to wear masks. Even after conservative icons Bill Montgomery and Herman Cain died of Covid-19, even after Rep Louie Gohmert may have infected Rep Raúl Grijalva during a committee hearing, even after the science shows Covid-19 is spread by aerosols, conservatives cannot brook masks. “Give me liberty and give me death” seems to be the new conservative slogan.

In Canet de Mar, Tony told me, the locals made sure to support the town’s businesses during the lockdown. It looks like all the restaurants will stay open. Most of them have added abundant outside dining areas. There’s even a new place to try vermut and several new bars along the beach.

After almuerzo, back at Kim and Conie’s place, we sipped cava and surveyed the beaches, which now fly blue flags. There was speculation that the cessation of cruise ships helped the beaches qualify for blue flags this year. Natalie said the quality of the sea water was definitely better during her swims.

All of us wondered why the US can’t get its Covid-19 act together. If Trump decided tomorrow that the only thing that mattered was beating Covid-19, he could shut down the US again for four weeks and have two months to campaign on a great success.

Maybe it’s always nice in Canet de Mar, but if the only thing I have to do to earn a tasty lunch and bubbly on the terrace afterwards is wear a mask, I can wear a mask.

For my friends in the US, here’s how things look from outside.

Wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands. It will go away without vaccines or treatments.

I’m blogging weekly on this page and tweeting daily here. I’m working on a mailing list and apologize for last Sunday’s pilot error sending out a blank email.

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