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THE EURO ZONE

Layers of the Covid cake

Here's a typical sentence on Covid and Spain's economy, taken from a Reuter's report published last week: commenting on the year-on-year 22% rise in unemployment seen last December, the news outlet said that the "brutal economic contraction induced by the coronavirus crippled tourism and other labour-intensive industries".

This is not technically false, but it is misleading, because there's a vital omission in the source's description of the cause-and-effect chain that is, indeed, ruining many businesses in the hospitality sector. There are three layers to the disgusting cake we've all had rammed down our throats this year: first, the virus itself; secondly, the measures taken to temporarily reduce its spread; and thirdly, the economic, social and human fallout from both of those combined and each separately.

The prevailing view seems to be that there is no real distinction to be made here, from which it follows that the panicked, punitive response to the virus employed in Spain is not just the best way, but the only way. But despite what the country's fumbling government wants you to believe, this is manifestly false, and not just because Sweden went down a different route (thereby making itself the focus of a complex debate about the wisdom of indiscriminate lockdowns).

It takes just seconds to enumerate ways in which the response could have been different. Before the imposition of total lockdown - a devastating and extreme measure, wherever it's employed - was there any attempt whatsoever at a cost-benefit analysis? What about placing mobility restrictions only on the most vulnerable parts of the population - what's been called a "smarter" approach to lockdowns? What about employing greater leniency in smaller villages and less densely-populated areas? What about making some rules discretionary rather than compulsory? What about allowing bars and restaurants to take their own risk calculations and deciding for themselves whether or not to remain open for the last few hours of trading? I could go on.

The fact that a discussion about different approaches is possible shows that there are other ways in which Spain could have dealt with its Covid situation, especially as it has impacted upon the tourism and hospitality sectors. In other words, there is a distinction to be made - and a very important one - between the second and third layers of the Covid cake. This, in turn, leads us to question the extent to which the damage sustained by the country's bars, restaurants and hotels is owed only indirectly to the virus itself, but directly to the draconian measures taken to contain it.

This question is especially pertinent when applied to the prohibition of alcohol in bars between six and eight in the evening. Comprehension or justification of this ludicrous piece of legislation requires a real leap of credulity, as it presumably did for its mercurial creators - all the proof one needs that there's the virus, then a whole load of nonsense on top of it.