surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

With good reason?

With at least another week to go before lockdown is lifted in Spain, there's insufficient proof that the reduction of citizens' freedoms imposed by the government is slowing the spread of Covid-19 (CV-19). Despite severe restrictions on movement that have been in place for three weeks and claims that the virus has peaked, daily fatality and infection rates remain extremely high. But if lockdown is extended again next weekend, the economic stagnation that's already begun will get worse.

The more stringent measures introduced by Pedro Sánchez this week, which have closed all "non essential" businesses for a fortnight, also invite two questions: will their benefits, if any, outweigh their negative economic impact? And on what basis is the government imposing them? The Socialist administration, which is being criticised by the Conservatives for "improvising" its response to CV-19 seems to be hoping that more lockdown will eventually correlate with a drastic reduction in cases and fatalities caused by the virus, which so far hasn't happened.

Shutting down all businesses deemed "non-essential" is likely to aggravate the economic damage already caused by three weeks of restricted movement (I don't have space here to delve into the issue of how "essential" should be defined in this context). Yet explanations or justifications of these measures have so far been absent or, if attempted, tend to prompt the questions they're supposed to answer. On Monday, government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero said that "success depends upon all of us correctly observing all of the indications". This is not a truism or a self-evident fact, as she implies: it's a statement yet to be proven correct.

Defending the extended and tightened lockdown, Podemos leader and deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias has referenced Article 128 of the Spanish Constitution, which states that the "entire wealth of the country in its different forms, irrespective of ownership, shall be subordinated to the general interest". Yet thriving businesses are crucial to a healthy economy, the latter of which is very much in the general interest, affecting as it does the well-being of citizens and households.

The key question posed by Article 128 is as follows: to what extent is the government justified in imposing blanket measures on businesses of differing types and sizes in times of national crisis? The Spanish Constitution's commitment to national unity, as well as to respecting the rights of devolved regions such as Catalonia, generates a similar tension, and poses a similarly nuanced challenge for Sánchez's administration.

Lockdown, at least, gives us plenty of time to consider the complex questions raised by this pandemic and governments' attempts to fight it. The difference between dying of and dying with CV-19 and how this has impacted upon statistics; the physical and mental impact of self-quarantine on the elderly and lonely (and, indeed, on everyone); and the effectiveness of nationwide bans on movement in combating viruses are all issues that require balanced and rational discussion.