1 November 2020 – Sunday – #119

Happy Halloween! It’s starting to feel scarier than the first wave of Covid-19 in March. Last week, the US recorded nearly 100,000 new Covid-19 cases in a day. Spain reported its first day over 25,000. Both countries set unfortunate and unnecessary records.

At least Spain is doing something about its Covid-19 surge, even if it’s late and disorganized. Most of Spain’s second wave started over the summer in Madrid, Murcia, and the Basque Country. As schools opened, the second wave spread to most other regions. The central government finally approved a six month state of alarm last week.

Catalonia’s infections didn’t start trending up until October, then quickly climbed well over 500 per 100,000 for the most recent 14 days. That’s usually a good indication that a lockdown is called for. The region hasn’t locked down, but two weeks ago it limited social gatherings to six and closed restaurants and bars. Cultural events have been prohibited, too. A week ago Catalonia imposed a curfew from 10p to 6a.

Here’s what’s happened to the reproduction rate R (yellow bars) and the outbreak risk (blue line).

Covid-19 R and outbreak risk as of 27 October 2020. Source: Catalan News.

It’s too early to tell if Covid-19 infections have leveled off. At least R is responding well to the new Covid-19 restrictions even if the more sensitive outbreak risk continues to bounce around. Restaurants and bars were supposed to be closed for two weeks, but clearly they will stay closed longer. While it’s not hard to find restaurants serving para llevar from their front doors, most look closed for the duration.

On Friday Catalonia, like most regions in Spain, imposed travel restrictions between regions and municipalities. Catalonia’s weekend restriction means I cannot travel to see friends in other parts of Catalonia or Spain unless I arrive before Thursday night and leave after Monday morning. It seems like a final attempt to slow Covid-19 before imposition of a full lockdown.

Unlike March, these latest restrictions are being met with resistance in Barcelona (and elsewhere). Not what I would characterize as major resistance, but rather pockets of resistance. Part of the reason there was little resistance in March is that the main thing people understood about Covid-19 was that it killed people, so staying inside seemed like as good an idea as any. Ten months later we have lots more information and lots less desire to isolate.

I’m concerned that disinformation is fanning the flames of frustration here as it has in the US. Cristián sent me a photo of Covid-19 disinformation flyer he found in the lobby of his apartment in the Born district of Barcelona last week.

Covid-19 disinformation flyer in Barcelona.

The flyer says the wealthiest one percent is using Covid-19 as a way to take advantage of the other 99%. It contains standard QAnon-style disinformation about 5G, nanotechnology, and vaccines. The QR code on the reverse side of the flyer lands on Google Drive folders chock full of disinformation.

It’s not clear how disinformation is influencing protesters here, but there are protests. Friday night saw protests in Plaça de Sant Jaume against the new Covid-19 restrictions.

Parenthetically, there were videos on social media of looting as well as protests. Brad chalks up the looting to out-of-work pickpockets. He said many bicycles shown being stolen on the sports store looting videos were listed for sale online minutes after the looting.

Last night I photographed a smaller contingent marching down Corsega, the street just below Gracia. They look more like Covid-19 protesters than Halloween revelers.

About 50 protesters on Halloween below Gracia in Barcelona, 31 October 2020.

My concern about disinformation may be paranoia after so many months of reading about Covid-19 and other disinformation in the lead up to this Tuesday’s US election. But I do wonder who is behind the flyer Cristián spotted.

Hints I see of Covid-19 disinformation and resistance to Covid-19 restrictions in Barcelona are coming on the heels of a significant Catalonian independence story that broke last week. To wit, Judge Joaquín Aguirre is investigating whether Russia tried to aid the Catalonian independence movement three years ago with offers of soldiers and money.

On October 24, 2017, three days before Catalonia’s failed declaration of independence, [Victor] Terradellas is reported to have contacted the then president, Carles Puigdemont, assuring him that the Russian group could send 10,000 soldiers and pay Catalonia’s debt.

Catalan News, “Russia’s alleged plot to send 10k soldiers to defend Catalan independence denied by Kremlin,” 30 October 2020.

For the record, both the Catalan independence movement and Russia deny the allegation. However, knowing that Russia probably saw Catalonia as a cheap way to destabilize Spain and knowing its track record on disinformation, I have to wonder if Russia is behind the Covid-19 disinformation flyer and Google drive account mentioned above. It’s also possible other foreign interests know that Russia gamed Catalonia’s independence movement and see an opportunity for more interference.

Or maybe the one percent is really behind Covid-19 while it’s busy kidnapping children in pizza restaurants for sex and blood. You never know.

In the US, Covid-19 disinformation is stoked from the White House on down. Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist whom Trump effectively put in charge of his Coronavirus Task Farce, appeared on RT television last week espousing herd immunity (with vaccines at least a year away at scale, saying lockdowns and masks don’t work is implicitly advocating herd immunity, so let’s call it that). As you may know, RT is registered with the US government as a Russian agent.

Let me simplify that last paragraph. Russia is spreading Covid-19 disinformation from the White House that gives US conservatives permission to stand against US public health advice.

As an example of how this Russian mediated White House influence spreads and stifles the US response to Covid-19, a well-known conservative I follow on social media posted an article about how Covid-19 restrictions lead to authoritarianism. Its author argues that any public health restrictions must be viewed as authoritarian in nature because the only thing government employees want is power.

In addition, people who go into government tend to be the sort who naturally gravitate toward using power. And crises are excellent excuses for accumulating unprecedented authority and using it in novel ways.

Reason, “The Post-Pandemic ‘New Normal’ Looks Awfully Authoritarian,” 5 October 2020.

I would suggest that if that’s the opening gambit in a discussion about responding to a deadly virus, the virus wins. Using that argument, there can be no effective public health programs let alone dialog about the best public health response. Besides, it’s simply disingenuous to argue that, after decades of service, Drs. Fauci and Brix are motivated by political power. If they were so power hungry, why wouldn’t they, I don’t know, like run for office?

The main reason disinformation scares me is places like the US Midwest, where ICUs are running out of beds, and Belgium, where the government is asking healthcare workers sick with Covid-19 to continue to work because there aren’t enough healthcare workers. It’s easy to believe the disinformation, it’s lazy to rationalize that lockdowns lead to authoritarianism, but the reality is that it’s hard to comprehend Covid-19’s path of death and destruction until it’s too late.

I was heartened last night when Prime Minister Johnson announced a four week lockdown in England. Johnson had a severe case of Covid-19. He knows first hand the reality England is facing. He is demonstrating leadership by spreading public health information.

I’m also heartened by other countries. Last week Taiwan marked 200 days without a new Covid-19 case. Australia reduced its Covid-19 cases to zero. With its Covid-19 under control, China’s GDP surged with 4.9% year-over-year growth in the last quarter, far surpassing other G-7 economies (NB: that’s year-over-year). For the next couple of quarters, China is expected to outpace other G-7 countries that will be dealing with local outbreaks of Covid-19 rather than growing their economies.

Things are not going back to normal.

Covid-19 bits.

If you’re registered to vote in the United States, please vote Tuesday. 90 million already have because the health of the country is at stake.

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