Public health dictatorship

I do not want to deny the seriousness of the health crisis. The Sars-Cov-2 virus has already taken more than one million lives globally, and some 40 million people have already experienced COVID-19 disease. This is no small feat. There is no point in denying the seriousness of the situation, or falling into the trap of conspiracy theories.
However, neither does it make sense to turn off our critical thinking, to succumb to the widespread panic that seems to exist in the Spanish state. We have to live with this virus for at least another year, and I am talking about living and not just surviving.


Politics of fear and repression

It seems that there is a very broad 'coalition' in Spain that agrees that new infections are always blamed on people, especially irresponsible young people, and that the only way to stop the increase in infections is through more restrictions accompanied by threats of fines and even more restrictions. I don't have a TV (fortunately), but only reading the supposedly 'serious' press you see headlines blaming people for having a life, for meeting and drinking, eating, talking. In addition, there is almost live monitoring of cases of infection, hospitalisations, etc. - only a counter is missing on the media websites which is updated with every positive PCR test.
On TV and in the less serious press this is all accompanied by stories of human 'interest' - stories of people who passed the COVID-19 severely, with complications, or suffer from long term COVID-19. Obviously, all this exists. Although most people pass the COVID-19 asymptomatically or with mild symptoms, we cannot deny that there are serious cases, and a significant level of mortality. But in the current context all this serves to do little more than generate irrational fear, widespread panic, and does little to help people learn to live with the virus in the medium term and assume informed individual responsibility balanced with other human needs.


Diverting attention from the failure of politicians

All this noise does little to contain the pandemic, as we can see with the increase in cases in recent weeks. Rather, it serves to divert attention from the failure of politicians of all colours. If we were to talk (and act) only half as long as we are being blamed and threatened with new restrictions (and fines) on how to strengthen primary care, how to do effective and rapid contact tracing (a failure which was also pointed out by The Lancet in an editorial in October), how to speed up PCR testing, so that results do not take days to arrive, we would probably have far fewer cases. For example, in Spain only about 12% of the cases are identified as being infected - in South Korea it is more than two thirds (76%). "With the tracking capabilities of many autonomous communities, the most that can be done is to confirm that there is transmission in homes without being able to quantify the relative importance of each source of transmission," says Miguel Hernán, Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard University, according to El País. He believes there has been a lack of political will, because he does not understand that public health and economics go hand in hand: "A good tracking system is one of the best economic investments, in order to know which activities are more or less safe and to make very selective closures". Tracking backwards, i.e. actively seeking the source of an infection, and is not even considered in Spain. Once again, El País: Performing this 'backwards' search would be a double challenge in Spain. Right now it seems that it is not even being done conventionally: the median number of contacts identified for each known case has fallen to just two people, according to official health data. In other words, often not even the cohabitants are covered.
Furthermore, they should work on a system of comprehensive care for people who test positive and have to be confined. A system that deals with housing that allows for the confinement of a person or seeks other solutions, a system that deals with the social and economic assistance necessary for a person or a cohabitation unit to comply with the necessary confinement. Less guilt, less repression, and more help, without bureaucracy and taking into account the reality of many people who depend on income from the informal economy, who do not have the necessary papers to ask for help.
But they do not. It is easier to blame people. It is easier to threaten us with fines. It is easier to put fear into our bodies - fear of the virus or fear of repression - and make us obey the most absurd restrictions. And it is easier to mobilise the petty bourgeois against the people who still want to live, to make them denounce, to shout from their balconies, to demand even more restrictions. These days, reading the comments under the articles in the press scares me. Fear of fascism.


Anti-virus measures kill as well

Not only the virus kills, but so do the measures against the virus. How many people have died or are suffering serious consequences because they have not been diagnosed with another serious illness, a cancer, or another infection? How many elderly people in residential homes have died prematurely because of sadness and isolation, lack of contact and interaction? How many elderly people in care homes have suffered and deteriorated in health - from Alzheimer's or dementia - because of isolation, probably leading to a premature death?
How many people are suffering from severe anxiety or depression? How many people are 'medicating' themselves with alcohol or other drugs, because they can no longer cope with their anxiety or depression? How many people has this led to suicide already, and are at high risk of committing suicide?
There are no statistics on these other deaths. Little is being said about the short, medium and long term mental health consequences, consequences that can disable a person as much as long-term COVID. But there are no human interest stories on TV or in the press. These people do not exist in public discourse, which only makes these people invisible, and if they complain about their suffering caused by anti-virus measures they are considered selfish, unsupportive, irresponsible, thus increasing their isolation and suffering. I have experienced this.
And yet we, the people who have entered this health crisis already with mental health problems, are still living with it. Little is said about the withdrawal of psychological care services, about the serious consequences of a lack of contact for people with mental health problems, about the consequences of retraumatisation, or about other mental health problems. For example, the Ministry of Health's suicide prevention plan is paralysed by COVID - at a time when all experts fear a significant increase in mental health problems. The Spanish Confederation of Mental Health points out: "We are facing very difficult times of economic crisis, unemployment, evictions, which are going to affect the mental health of the whole population, generating problems, or aggravating existing ones; and to this we must add the suicides, which, although we do not have official data, we do know, from our entities, that the situation is getting worse".
New restrictions, new confinements are going to make it even worse, until a mental health pandemic arrives.


The lack of a critical discourse from the left

A critical discourse is needed. We need to break with this hegemonic policy of fear, panic, blaming the people and not the political mismanagement of this crisis - both by the "progressive" state government and by the autonomous governments of different colours. A discourse is needed that also exposes alternatives: for example, Sweden is not experiencing the same second wave as the rest of Europe. According to The Guardian, Dorit Nitzan, the WHO's regional director of emergencies for Europe, said Sweden's focus on sustainability over time, citizen participation and voluntary compliance was interesting because "this is the time when we all have to learn to live with this virus." It is not a question of copying Sweden, which has made serious mistakes as well, but of learning more from Sweden, because, as Nitzan said, the country had "adapted its response to the behaviour and background of its population, and used it to be effective". And there are countries that don't have a second wave: Japan or South Korea and other countries with a good tracking system.
The Spanish state is not Sweden, nor Japan, nor South Korea. These are just examples that show that there are other ways of managing the COVID crisis. For this reason, we need a respectful discourse, we need a public leftist critical space, so that we can debate the consequences of the restrictive measures, seek alternatives collectively, and support each other in our suffering. We cannot allow the ultra-right, the conspiracy theorists and the denialists to take over this space, as is happening now. It is not enough from the left to demand more social measures and to keep silent about the restrictions. We need to demand that our governments finally get down to work on strengthening tracing, primary care, social services. We should focus on broader health, including mental health, on the social and political consequences of the crisis (the promotion of individualism by a new culture of 'sharing (toys) is dangerous'), and also look beyond the current crisis: the risks of loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitats (the current pandemic is a consequence), the climate emergency, the social emergency.
I am fed up with a complacent and obedient Spanish left. I am fed up with a Spanish left that seems to have lost its critical capacity, and has joined the hegemonic thinking: fear, restrictions, repression.


Learning to live with the virus

We have to learn to live with the virus. A vaccine, if it comes, will not arrive before the autumn of 2021 at the earliest. Nor do we know if it will be effective and how long immunity will last. And how long it will take to vaccinate a large enough part of the population. We have to live with the virus for 2021, and most probably for a (large) part of 2022, and in some ways forever. It is unlikely that this virus will go away. This means that we have to live, and not just survive. The current restrictions are not sustainable, and probably for this reason hope is being created for a vaccine 'soon'. Nonsense, and they know it. The fall will be even worse when the vaccine doesn't come.
Living with the virus means doing all the things politicians don't do, don't talk about: primary care, contact tracing, a comprehensive support system for people who have to be confined, and more. Living with the virus means assuming individual and collective responsibility, but also living: meeting, hugging (hugging and touching are not only aspects of Mediterranean culture, they are also human needs), drinking, eating, chatting, flirting. Sharing our lives, in the good and the bad. Supporting each other, and not blaming each other.
We are far from this in the Spanish state. Fear, guilt and repression reign. At least I can't take it anymore. Enough!