Compare and contrast

Did Pedro Sánchez make the right choice in locking down Spain to the extent that he did? It's likely to be some time before we can answer that question with any certitude, even after it emerged this week that between April and June, the country's economy shrunk by 18.5% - the worst contraction seen since the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936. Another question linked to the first is whether some of the economic damage the country has sustained is owed not just to the virus (although a lot certainly is), but also to measures employed by the Spanish government to reduce its effect on the health services.

A comparison with Sweden, which controversially refused to impose lockdown on its citizens in March, yields no clear answer to either question.

Despite having no new outbreaks such as those recently seen in Catalonia and Aragon, Sweden's per capita death-rate is higher even than that of the United States.

And although the economic impact of the virus and/or of the Swedish government's containment measures has been much less severe than it has in Spain, it has still been worse than experts predicted.

Another question raised by comparing and contrasting Spain with Sweden is whether governments were justified in imposing their Covid regulations by force, or whether some or most of the rules should have taken the form of recommendations, leaving the rest to people's rationality and compassion. Sweden's recent GDP statistics, for example, could be used to support the argument that although no lockdown was forced upon the population, most citizens obeyed the government's recommendations anyway, which is why the country's economic activity slowed considerably (although nowhere near as much as Spain's).

Of course, this is an unfashionable case to make when there's such widespread support for the idea that citizens need to be told what to do, what to say and even what to think - an idea that has always seemed to me to rest on a very dim view of humanity.

To question that imposing total lockdowns during pandemics is the only, or at least the best, way to proceed has become an almost unspeakable taboo, anathema to the standard view that not shutting down a country in the way that Spain's government did is almost homicidally irresponsible.

Yet we must criticise that orthodoxy, and analyse the results from countries such as Sweden with open minds about the merits, and of course flaws, of other approaches.

In a way that suggested he thought he was uttering an obvious truism, a friend of mine said to me this week, "It's precisely in times like these that we need totalitarianism".

I agree entirely, provided a "don't" is added at the appropriate place in that sentence.