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THE EURO ZONE

No business as normal

This week saw the release of a statistic that dramatically reveals how the Covid-19 pandemic has already left an indelible mark on this year, as well as hinting at its possible medium-term economic effects. According to the National Statistics Institute (INE), during April - for the entirety of which Spain was under one of the world's most severe lockdowns - precisely zero international tourists visited the country. Consequently, tourist spending was also zero.

As normality slowly starts to unfurl after a weird couple of months, the latest INE statistics are a brutal reminder that Spain was closed for any kind of business during April. The effects of that closure, on everything from employment to the population's mental and physical well being, are likely to rumble on for the rest of this year, even if lockdown is now over.

And with the baffling announcement this week that Malaga's administration has cancelled the city's riotous feria in mid-August, it seems that the Andalusian summer will feel far from normal, even though the worst of the Covid-19 health crisis has passed. An Andalusian summer without ferias will be like a British summer without rained-off Wimbledon matches: surreal, missing a vital, iconic element. Such cancellations also risk prolonging the economic stagnation that has already resulted from two months of total lockdown.

Cancelling a giant street party in Malaga in August appears excessively cautious, especially given the relaxation of confinement measures already taking place. It seems strange that outside terraces and streets will still be packed during the summer months - at least with Spaniards, if not with international visitors - but that feria is deemed a contagion risk. How many people in one place at a time is unacceptable, and why? Ten, fifty, two hundred, five hundred? Where and why do we cross a line? There seems to be no real logic, no rational principles underlying the cancellation of such events months in advance, yet allowing typical Spanish street life to resume anyway.

But perhaps impromptu summer celebrations will still be held throughout Andalucía. If bars, squares and streets are not officially off-limits, you won't be able to keep Spaniards off them, especially during August. As the owner of a bar in a Malaga village said to me this week, "If our feria is cancelled, I'll just put extra tables out and turn up the music. We'll still have a feria."

Spain's politicians, meanwhile, continue to bicker with astonishing energy and creativity. Wednesday's congressional session was pure theatre, with Vox leader Pablo Abascal shouting at deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias as he left the chamber that there would be plenty of time to watch his speech later - on a TV in prison. Is this the "new normal" of Spanish politics, a post-truth political arena in which insults and putdowns are more important than rational, considered debate?