Spain has finally learned that where the notorious coronavirus is concerned, no country is an island. When northern Italy was hit by the virus, everyone felt it was just a matter of hours – not days – before the virus reared its ugly head here.

For one thing, the influx of Italian tourists into Spain is unceasing, whatever the season. (Latest stat [2018]: nearly 4.5 million.)  And Italy is one of the most popular destinations of outbound Spaniards.

For another, Italy is the favorite destination of Spanish Erasmus students. Of the more than 40,000 Spanish students who joined the Erasmus program (2016-2017), 8124 chose Italy. By way of comparison, 4570 chose the UK, the second biggest favorite among the Spanish students.

When the Mobile World Congress was cancelled last 12 February for fear of coronavirus contagion, the Spanish government barely contained its outrage: there was no known case of infection in Spain. No virus carrier on its soil. And the public health system, Spain’s crown jewel, could handle any emergency.

The widespread feeling was that the cancellation was uncalled for.

Milan, capital of Lombardy.

Then came the viral outbreak in Italy: 322 infections as of Tuesday, 25 February, and counting. Twelve killed. Lombardy, the epicenter. Then Veneto, Emilia Romagna. . . Spreading fast.

Reaching Spain.

Reports the English edition of the national daily El Pais: “Spain detects 10 new cases of coronavirus in 36 hours. A new positive is reported in Seville, adding to the patients in Madrid, Catalonia, the Valencia region and Tenerife.”  (total of 15 patients today, 27 February.)

El Corte Ingles, the iconic department store chain, has ordered all its employees who have travelled to Lombardy recently not to report to the stores and offices. To stay at home and work from there.

El Corte Inglés in Barcelona.

It’s the first Spanish company to quarantine its employees.

But the Spanish Ministry of Health urges caution, common sense, no panicking.

The Spanish Minister of Health at the press conference on the virus

Health Minister Salvador Illa said in his press conference on Tuesday, 25 February: “In light of the increasing number of cases [of coronavirus infection] identified in various countries, especially Italy, we have been advised by experts to raise the sensitivity of the detection system [currently] in place to prevent coronavirus”.

He announced that “anyone showing symptoms and who has been in any of [the] risk areas [namely, all of China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Iran and the four regions of northern Italy: Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna] within the last 14 days should be considered as a possible case and should therefore be tested and undergo the corresponding procedures.”

According to the minister, the main goal of the Spanish government is prevention. “That’s why we’ve agreed to increase efforts to strengthen early detection.”

Madrid: A new patient who hadn’t traveled to any of the risk areas tested positive.

Illa underscored the fact that the central and regional governments are ready for any possible scenario that might arise in Spain with respect to the looming pandemia. He reminded the people that they have a tried and true Spanish National Health System. “We should be proud and satisfied to have such a cohesive healthcare system” were his words.

At the end of the press conference, the Minister of Health assured the country: “We will continue to constantly monitor the situation every day so we can adopt any additional measures that may become necessary, guided by one fundamental principle: guaranteeing public health protection.”

A reassurance that a jittery country needs.

Breaking news this Thursday, 27 February: A new patient in Madrid who had not traveled to any of the risk areas has tested positive. Now what?

(Newsflash, 28 Feburary: 31 infected. This development is worrying, at the very least.)



Featured image (collage): Flamenco dancer/Hernan Piñera, CC BY-SA2.0, cropped; Woman wearing surgical mask/Yasser Alghofily, CC BY2.0, cropped. Frame supplied.
Milan/Deensel via Flickr, CC BY2.0
El Corte Inglés/Zarateman, PD
Press conference/Ministry of Health, Fair use
Madrid (Gran Via)/Nicolar Vigier, PD