Thursday, March 04, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4.3.21

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 

Cosas de España 

A nice question - Could the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to bullfighting in Spain

A friend send me this old BBC feature. I do hope Spanish readers understand that the chap's got his tongue firmly in his cheek.

I’m not sure I agree that the Spanish princesses have done something terribly wrong. 

There was a nice program on the Santiago de Compostela on the Smithsonian channel this morning. I was intrigued to hear the suggestion it'd originally been a pagan pilgrimage route. To caves where female spirits/goddesses lived, for example. But I wasn't surprised to hear Santiago constantly pronounced with a long Anglo A before the G. The As aren’t different in Spanish; both are short.

Cousas de Galiza

The folk of W and NW Iberia

This is a foto of a couple of bars on the edge of Pontevedra's old quarter, taken midday last Saturday, after restrictions were eased on Friday. Neither the owners nor the customers are abiding by the residual regulations:-

I heard things changed on Sunday, after the  police had started to issue fines. But this wasn't obvious to me as I walked home through the main tapas zone around 2pm.

A couple of people were kind enough to tell me yesterday of this Guardian article on 'Galician Noir'. As I've yet to catch up with Scandi Noir, it's not surprising I hadn't heard of this. And neither am I surprised at the (false) picture of a permanently rainy region.

María's Tsunami Day 31

The UK

I noted yesterday that Boris Johnson was getting a free pass on his administration's disastrous handling of Covid. Today, Richard North - writing about a growing spat with the EU re Northern Ireland - says that: The odd thing about all of this, is that Johnson seems to be riding above the fray. Despite this being his own personal "oven-ready" deal, currently he is taking no flak for what is proving to be an unworkable shambles. But there must surely come a point when the mud starts to stick. One would certainly hope so.

Meanwhile . . . Britons are racing to book holidays in Spain this summer following the announcement that a ‘green corridor’ could be set up for vaccinated travellers. This has been sparked by comments made by the Spanish Minister for Tourism confirming that Spain and the UK are in “discussions” over lifting travel restrictions for those inoculated against Covid, if there's no collective EU decision on vaccine passports in the next few months.

France, Italy, Germany and The EU

Ambrose Evans Pritchard is on good form below: Macron is the joker now as Europe blunders into  fateful third wave of the pandemic. We are only just beginning to glimpse the tectonic consequences of Covid failure for Europe's political order  

The USA/Religious Nutters/Crooks Corner

Just in case you didn't realise it at the time, Donald Trump says his presidency was the most successful in history.

Finally . . .

I read yesterday that the French word 'Plantagenet' came from the Latin for broom - planta genista. This follows on the heels of me writing about the Portuguese and Galician words for broom - giesta and xesta, respectively. A nice, informative coincidence then. BTW: No one's going to be surprised that the French word for broom is genêt. Or genest before the circumflex replaced the S. As in fenestra/fenêtre. The Spanish word, though, is retama. Which I wasn't surprised to read comes from the Arabic - ratamah.



Macron is the joker now as Europe blunders into fateful third wave of the pandemic. We are only just beginning to glimpse the tectonic consequences of Covid failure for Europe's political order: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. The Telegraph

Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson have swapped places. The French technocrat has become the Covid gambler, hoping to muddle through the third wave with half measures and to wish away the invading variants.

In late January he took one of his Jupiterian decisions - alone - and defied the overwhelming majority of his scientists, something Mr Johnson never actually did despite the media myth in Europe that he was some sort of Bolsonaro. Mr Macron overruled the Conseil Scientifique and France’s epidemiologists, and even his own prime minister. This was a big deal. It was seen as an act of bold leadership by an intelligent man weighing up all the medical, social, and economic variables in their just proportions. He was rewarded with a bounce in the polls.

Every week without a lockdown buys time, he said confidently, a week gained for economic recovery. This is an extraordinary line of argument given everything we have learned over the pandemic. He himself criticised Mr Johnson (unfairly) for delaying in much the same way a year ago before the respass[??] of our Magna Carta rights became routine and when it was perhaps more understandable, threatening to close the French frontier at one point unless the UK followed his lead. But for Mr Macron’s gamble to pay off, it requires stable infection and very fast vaccination. Both are slipping away from him. France’s case count is merely impressionistic but the trend is clear: numbers in ICU beds have risen to 3,544 and are near alarm thresholds in several areas. The share of positive Covid tests is 7.3pc, the highest since last November in the second wave.

What Mr Macron has in fact done with each week of delay is to let new variants take hold. The English B.  is already 53pc of cases, reaching 90pc in Dunkirk. The South African and Brazil variants top 10pc in eleven French departments, and 54pc in Moselle. The UK’s latest flap over an escaped case of the Brazil case seems surreal when set against events on our Continental doorstep. Yet still he hesitates. The evening curfew has been tightened from 8pm to 6pm as a token gesture, but this chiefly means that employed working people must crush together in supermarkets at the end of the day. Dunkirk and Nice have gone into weekend lockdowns. Paris and 20 departments are likely to follow. France is edging crab-like and slowly towards another lockdown that dares not speak its name. 

It is hard to see how Mr Macron is going to get away with this. And if he fails, his Enarque I-know-best presidency will be damaged beyond repair, with consequences for European politics. As of early March, the eurosceptic Marine Le Pen is France’s dauphine, running almost neck and neck in the polls for a run-off duel. To succeed, he needs lighting-fast jabs with a stretched single dose strategy - the British strategy deemed dangerously irresponsible by his anglophobe Europe minister, Clément Beaune, but rapidly gaining support among alarmed health experts in Germany, Italy, and France itself. 

Instead Mr Macron drifted into the immunisation campaign with a breathtaking lack of urgency, keener to assuage sottish anti-vaxxers than to serve rational citizens. The problem is not just that he rubbished the AstraZeneca jab as next to useless for over 65s when the peer-reviewed science said no such thing, but also that the French authorities refused to sanction its use for the elderly. This derailed the whole vaccination process. France did not have the cold storage chains to deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech jab en masse to care homes or the elderly. Everything got snarled up.  

Three months into the global vaccination drive, barely more than 4 million people in France have protection from a first jab. Just 24pc of the 1.1m AstraZeneca doses delivered so far have been administered. The target was 80pc to 85pc. France has now tweaked the age limit to 75 for certain cases but has not removed the stigma. Mr Macron is belatedly talking up the vaccine but still damns it with faint praise. It is as if he cannot bring himself to accept the real-life data from Scotland and England, as if loath to tell the French people that it cuts hospital admissions by 94pc and slightly outperforms the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

The Élysée Palace insisted on Wednesday that Mr Macron will soon be opening up rather than closing down. “More normal living conditions are in sight. It is getting closer and closer. We hope maybe from mid-April, and we are preparing for it," said his spokesman. Bet on that if you dare. It is just as likely that a stubbornly high death toll will prolong the agony into late spring, with reopening coming too late to save the 2021 tourist season. Economic recovery may not arrive until the second half of 2021. That would push French public debt through 120pc of GDP and push thousands more firms over the edge, with non-linear risks to the banking system and social cohesion.

Italy is a few days behind France in this enveloping third wave. Infections have been climbing since early February. The Istituto Superiore di Sanità says the English variant has reached 54pc of new cases, with Brazilian hotspots in Lazio and Tuscany. “If we don’t act quickly  we’ll have 30,000 to 40,000 cases a day within a week, just as occured in England,” said Prof Andrea Crisanti from Imperial College.  He told the Piazzapulita TV show that the system of regional "yellow zones" had failed and that Italy’s political leaders do not understand what is happening. “They are talking about reopening. They are absolutely unrealistic about the transmission dynamic right now,” he said.

Premier Mario Draghi refuses to pull the trigger. Restaurants and bars are still open in yellow zones up to 6pm. Cinemas and concert halls will open in two weeks. This is courting fate. Italy’s economy is already on track for another quarter of contraction. If the second quarter blows up as well, the damage from permanent scarring rises ineluctably. So does the likelihood of future sovereign insolvency.  Mr Draghi might find that his own reputation for technocrat competence is on the line. 

Nor is Germany out of the woods. It too refused to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for the elderly on precautionary grounds, even though the Oxford group was in reality more careful with its original testing than Pfizer-BioNTech, though less slick with PR. This German decision has had the same paralysing effect on the rollout as in France, with the added disaster of a two-factor authentication app that flummoxed the eldery hoping to get a jab. It is not so much a rejection of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the German people that is the problem, though an early smear campaign has caused some of that. It is a largely failure of the German bureaucratic state and the Länder to roll out delivery to those who want it. We did not expect to see that. The result of so many missteps is that just 4.9pc of the German population has received the first jab, even as the English variant hits 40pc of cases.

The mounting scientific reasons for drastic action are, however, matched equally by mounting political reasons for throwing caution to the winds and opening sooner.  “Madame Chancellor, Germany’s Patience is at an end,” was the headline across Die Welt’s front page on Wednesday, by which it meant that there was no longer a justification for the suppression of normal liberties. Rarely in modern times has Germany seemed so torn and confused.

The economic toll keeps rising. Citigroup says the cumulative drop in German retail sales over December and January was 13.2pc, almost double the 7.5pc fall in the first wave. “Another national lockdown in April or May is not yet in our forecasts, but is increasingly likely and would delay the recovery by another quarter,” it said.

The peoples of Europe have mostly forgiven Brussels for botching vaccine procurement, and some have forgiven their own governments for botching the rollout. But that is because they have not yet discovered the price. They have been assured that the pandemic is under control and that reopening is imminent. If they are forced back into another lockdown over the spring because vaccination paralysis has collided with galloping infections, the reckoning will be a sight to behold. We are only just beginning to glimpse the tectonic consequences of Covid failure for the political order of Europe.


Anonymous said...

Mario Draghi also has blocked export of AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine doses to Australia too. He has the EU backing.
I also remember the EU promised that export controls would not be used to stop vaccines exiting any EU country.
Germany has change of heart about the age limit for the AZ vaccine. it is now available for all ages. What can one think? Where is the science behind the withdrawal or the reinstatement?

Perry said...

No science, just prejudice & jealousness.

Colin Davies said...

But mostly politics.