Only an out-of-season Scrooge could begrudge the excitement Spanish children and their parents will feel at the prospect of being allowed out of their homes next week. Many of them have been confined to barracks since March 14.
On Saturday, prime minister Pedro Sánchez said Spain had left behind “the most extreme moments and contained the brutal onslaught of the pandemic”. Though the country has recorded more than 20,000 deaths its toll has slowed to a one-month low. Yesterday afternoon the country was on track to publish the lowest daily increase since March 22.
That light at the end of the tunnel has flickered in Denmark too. Primary schools have reopened. Small businesses, including hairdressers and beauty clinics, reopen today. Tempting as it may be to embrace this positive news that old saw “one swallow a summer does not make” unfortunately remains the better realisation at this moment.
Spain and Denmark, other countries too, may have passed peak coronavirus but the evidence from too many other countries demands we persist with our cautious approach. Ironically, having the fortitude to do this should inspire long-term confidence even at the cost of short-term relief. A stark warning from Japan strengthens that argument.
Doctors there say their medical system could collapse under new cases brought by a resurgent plague. Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, offers the starkest example. Once seen as a success story, the island is struggling with a second wave of infections. In late February, Hokkaido became the first place in Japan to declare a state of emergency. By mid-March the number of new cases had fallen and on March 19 the state of emergency was lifted. Schools reopened this month.
However last week, 26 days after the state of emergency was lifted, a new one had to be imposed.
Sweden, one of the very few European countries to adopt light-touch regulations, may be paying a high price. Last week, the Public Health Agency said 1,333 people had died of coronavirus, a third of those in nursing homes.
That setback is amplified by the Oxford University assertion that it was possible to be infected more than once.
The challenge of finding a vaccine is made harder by unreliable information. That the Chinese city of Wuhan, the coronavirus wellspring, has raised its official death toll by 50% not only makes research more difficult, it provokes suspicions around other official data.
Wuhan’s 11m residents spent months in strict lockdown, which has only recently been eased. It would be a huge blow, especially psychologically, if Wuhan experienced, like Hokkaido, a resurgent pandemic. Set against that background, and WHO advice to countries to plot a cautious path out of lockdown, anything less that iron-willed caution would be unwise.
The Government is to examine the prospect of reopening primary schools, maybe one day a week, in the summer. Officials will monitor countries where those decisions have already been taken. It is difficult now to argue that restrictions be eased much less to say when that might happen. Great patience and ongoing discipline remain imperatives.