ALMOST everybody in Catalonia knows someone who has lost a relative due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Vice-President Josep Costa. There are now nearly 22,000 confirmed cases in the nation and nearly 3000 deaths, although the unofficial figure is “certainly higher”.

“There are maybe a few hundred who are not counted because they died without making it to hospital and were not tested,” he said.

Costa is highly critical of the way the pandemic has been handled by the Spanish government, believing the initial restrictions were not tight enough and allowed the virus to spread – to the extent that Spain is one of the hardest hit countries in the world.

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He is also adamant that not enough financial help is being given to citizens and businesses to survive the crisis.

“There are also thousands of businesses that will never re-open – we are sure of that,” he said. “Ninety-five per cent of businesses here have less than 10 workers and they have not got real help.”

Costa added: “One of the big scandals was that businesses were still asked for their social security contributions and taxes on the last day of March even though many of them were shut down and had no income coming in.”

The National: An elderly sufferer of Covid-19 is taken from hospital in BarcelonaAn elderly sufferer of Covid-19 is taken from hospital in Barcelona

The Spanish government finally passed financial help measures on March 31 but Costa said the paperwork involved was so cumbersome it was difficult for people to apply.

“A lot of people are suffering financially and the reality is we have only been a few weeks into this so it is too early to know how bad it is going to be,” he said. “We don’t yet know the impact of people being unable to pay bills or rent. So far people are still living on their wages but we don’t know what will happen after that.”

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Catalonia by contrast was quick to take action after the World Health Organisation declared on March 12 that the outbreak was a pandemic. The following day the Catalan government shut down schools, theatres, museums, bars and restaurants as well as the city of Igualada, the site of a cluster of infections.

On March 14 the Spanish government declared a State of Alert, taking over all the powers necessary to manage the crisis but did not impose the complete lockdown demanded by the Catalonian government.

Instead, although restaurants, theatres and bars were shut and people were asked to stay at home, they were still expected to go to work and continued to do so until the beginning of last week.

“It was ridiculous and the Catalan government were very vocal about this as well as many doctors and scientists,” said Costa. “It made no sense for people to stay home and not be allowed to go out except for food and health care but were still required to work in non-essential industries.

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“A lot of people complained because they had their kids and grandparents at home but had to go to work.”

Demands from the Catalan government for a total lockdown that involved shutting the airports, the ports and curtailing trains and any long-distance traffic were ignored.

Costa said “another blunder” by the Spanish government had been to give warning that the State of Alert was to be implemented, allowing people time to flee the cities and make for second homes at the coast or in the mountains.

Madrid in particular should have been in lockdown, said Costa, as it was the most affected city.

“It is almost indisputable that the virus was spread around by people leaving Madrid when the State of Alert was declared,” he said.

There is also widespread criticism of the fact that the traditional Women’s Marches were allowed to go ahead on March 8. Spanish government ministers seen hugging people on the demonstrations started suffering from Covid-19 symptoms a few days later, according to Costa.

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“A lot of people said that it was negligent of the government to participate in these demonstrations when people were already asking for social distancing measures to be implemented,” he said.

COSTA added that the Catalan government was “very frustrated” that the Spanish government did not take the measures demanded.

“First of all we were not allowed to manage the crisis our own way and when they took over the powers to manage it they were did not listen to our demands. For 15 days we were telling them they were not doing the right thing.”

Now he said everyone knew someone who had lost a relative to the disease.

“In the Catalan parliament alone there are at least three people who have lost family members during this period,” said Costa.

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“Nine out of 10 people are wearing masks and gloves to go shopping. The streets are empty although we go out every evening to our balconies, if we have them, to pay homage to the health workers. We are not allowed out for exercise but in a lot of places people also have a social moment every day on their balconies, chatting, singing and dancing.”

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