20 Mar, 2021 @ 11:15
3 mins read

COMMENT: Valencia President Ximo Puig deserves credit for COVID fightback on Spain’s Costa Blanca but why can’t we raise an evening glass of cheer?

COVID-19 passports extended across hospitality and entertainment sectors in Costa Blanca area of Spain
Valencian government image

THERE is no disputing the amazing turnround in the Valencian Community’s COVID-19 crisis which saw the virus running amok in January to make it the ‘sick’ region of Spain.

Now in the second half of March, the region is producing infection rates that are the lowest in the country, and for that matter Europe.

The word ‘prudence’ has been uttered what seems like a million times by Valencian president, Ximo Puig, as tough restrictions were imposed in late January.

That followed a December debacle where measures were not strong enough- presumably to maintain some kind of normality over the Christmas, New Year and Three Kings period.

Ironically what happened over that terrible time has coloured Puig’s view, and that of Health Minister Ana Barcelo, to take almost an opposite track ahead of Easter, and perhaps into May.

A lesson has been learnt that has reaped some rich dividends and saved lives, as well as ensuring that hospitals did not get overcrowded, though it did come close to that point at the height of winter.

As of last Thursday(March 18), the Valencian Community as a whole has the lowest infection rates in Spain at 39 cases per 100,000 people compared to the national average of 127 or 224 in the Madrid region.

Alicante Province including the Costa Blanca now stands at under 30 cases per 100,000 residents.

Anything below the World Health Organisation benchmark of 50 cases puts an area or country into a coronavirus ‘low-risk’ category.

Valencia’s figures are more than good. They are excellent and the ‘tough love’ has compensated for the region not totally getting its act together over ‘track and trace’ last year coupled with a slower roll-out of vaccinations compared to other parts of Spain.

But there is a sense that with increasing rule breaking and more illegal parties, more and more people are reaching the end of their tether after a year of restrictions.

That is understandable and perhaps a wee bit of common sense ought to come into play from Valencia rather the rigidity and the constant mentioning of ‘prudence’, which is boring the proverbial pants of everybody.

It’s all about getting people ‘on side’ and showing some consistent logic.

The overwhelming number of COVID outbreaks in the Valencia region have come from home family gatherings, followed by work and educational situations.

Those are official health ministry figures which show that very few outbreaks can be put down to hospitality since last June, where at least social distancing and mask wearing rules can be imposed.

That’s why, and much to the chagrin of the hospitality trade, there are appears to be little logic to Puig’s policies.

Non-essential shops, with people milling around, can stay open until 8.00 pm but hospitality has to close at 6.00 pm. Frustrated bar and restaurant owners look at neighbouring regions like Murcia in envy as customers are served until the mid-evening.

And no matter what the politicians say, nobody can police what happens in private homes and how people choose to gather behind closed doors.

Surely the controlled opening of bars and restaurants until say 9.00 or 9.30 pm makes sense, and not just from the business perspective of the hard-pressed sector.

But as opposed to last year, Puig’s reluctance to offer a generous lessening on hospitality restrictions have raised some eyebrows.

Perhaps there is some knee bending in the direction of his left-wing coalition partners, Compromis, and his vice-president, Monica Oltra, who has been prone to ‘off the cuff’ remarks that have led to back-tracking and denials.

No photo description available.

Some hospitality groups are no fans of her, but Puig has to make sure that Compromis are on side or else his coalition looks a bit shaky.

Puig’s socialist colleagues clearly felt there was time for a slight change when they forced him to alter his stance ahead of a slight relaxation kicking in last Monday.

There were no plans for indoor bar and restaurant service to resume this week, despite the good news over infection rates, which are lower than most of last summer.

Puig then found his comrades giving him an ultimatum that they would veto relaxations over sports centres and gyms if indoor hospitality did not reopen at 30% capacity.

He gave way but the current hospitality restrictions are still draconian with many businesses still to reopen, if ever again.

Nobody disputes the need for that by-word of ‘prudence’ but common sense and logic should also prevail to boost spirits to get an evening drink or meal without derailing health safety in what was been otherwise a successful strategy for Ximo Puig.

Alex Trelinski

Alex worked for 30 years for the BBC as a presenter, producer and manager. He covered a variety of areas specialising in sport, news and politics. After moving to the Costa Blanca over a decade ago, he edited a newspaper for 5 years and worked on local radio.

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