May 27 was a Thursday. It was a Thursday which tempted us to suggest that Thursdays should be known as Super thursday. For the third consecutive Thursday, the daily number of new coronavirus cases was below 20. May 27 ended a sequence of 19, 15 and 18. The following Thursday, June 3, the number was 42, but this was nothing to be concerned about, and Thursday, June 10 was only 24.
On Thursday, July 15, the number was 795, the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic. Super Thursday had become Black thursday, but its record was short-lived. On Friday, there were 864 cases. For all the pleading of the Balearic government – to foreign governments especially – that incidence rates and number of cases mattered less than the situation in hospitals, the numbers were dire. More than dire, as there was a sense last week that control had been lost.
Not comparable with other regions
Curfews and limits on social gatherings were being implemented in Valencia and Catalonia, where the incidence rates were, respectively, eighty less and more than double that of the 513 in the Balearics by Friday. President Armengol insisted that the health situation was not comparable with other regions that were reintroducing restrictions. With Catalonia maybe not; Valencia was a different matter.
The tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, then observed that the situation in the rest of Spain was “very similar” to the Balearics, as there had been an increase in cumulative incidence. Well yes, and we’d all been able to figure that out for ourselves. Either not comparable or similar, this mattered little to the UK government who, quite clearly persuaded by the incidence rates and paying little attention to the hospital situation, dropped the Balearics from the green watch list and placed the islands on amber.
Back on amber
But never fear, the islands remained a “safe destination”, observed the tourism minister. Amber will not harm the islands, which will be welcoming fully vaccinated holidaymakers and family tourism, “a type of tourism we have always defended”. At a stroke, Grant Shapps had quite possibly eliminated an age group of excess and a further headache for the minister, who had left parliamentary explanations about a Spanish group of excess – the students – to the minister for the presidency, Mercedes Garrido.
Amber is also orange
While the minister and president were confident that harm would not be caused and that the season would live long if not totally prosper, others were less sure. The Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence noted that there had been a slowdown in holiday bookings that had been occurring before the amber announcement, and then the Dutch government put a further spanner in the works by moving the Balearics to orange, its amber equivalent; TUI in the Netherlands canceled holidays for the time being.
A curfew or not?
Was there about to be a revival of the curfew in the Balearics? President Armengol suggested not. It was a measure of last resort. The government was preparing other measures, but all the while, and despite the vaccination program (half of the target population fully vaccinated), there was a fear that the situation could only get worse. As well as the rising incidence rate, hospital numbers were going up, if not dramatically.
Were real consideration to be given to a curfew, it remains to be seen what mechanism might be used in order to justify it. The Balearic government, in theory, does have powers under the reform of public health legislation it decreed in May. But the courts would still have to be referred to. They have played a central role in determining restrictions on freedoms, and last week came a ruling from the Constitutional Court that rocked the Spanish government. The original state of alarm had been the wrong “state” for ordering confinement of the population.
A feeling of losing control because of the soaring incidence rates was compounded by a sense that legal control was being undermined.