My latest article in The Telegraph: The European countries with the strictest lockdowns have come out no better

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

COMMENT

 

The European countries with the strictest lockdowns have come out no better

I’ve been under different lockdowns in Spain, Austria and the UK – and still, there are no clear winners

 

(The full length and slightly edited version can be found by subscribers at The Telegraph online here.)

 

Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic I have written in these pages about the European countries in which I have suffered their various countermeasures.

I witnessed Marines patrolling the streets in one of the hardest lockdowns in Europe, Spain, where I ran a half-marathon inside a small apartment in an attempt to stay sane and fit while they locked their physically vulnerable elderly and psychologically vulnerable children away from all sunlight and exercise, despite the measurable protection these two factors offer against the virus.

I returned to England when I was allowed, and was invited to bear witness to the catastrophic collapse of the hospitality industry, with hotels and restaurants desperately trying to outweigh the off-putting countermeasures of the odour of bleach, enforced hand-sanitisation, masks, and social-distancing, by practically begging customers – and travel writers like myself – to visit.

(Thank you to the lovely Gilbeys Restaurant & Townhouse in Eton, the splendid Old Parsonage Hotel & Grill in Oxford, the comforting The Winning Post pub in Windsor Great Park and the splendour of Mossiman’s at Guards Polo Club – I hope you all make it: you certainly deserve to.)

Seeing the second lockdown coming like a sailor watching the wind moving across the water, and in search of an escape, I spoke to friends in Paris where I used to live but they had had it harder than Spain. And, while the Swedish experiment looked to me like an extraordinarily brave idea which may well work in the long run, I have neither friends nor family there with whom to enjoy the liberty.

In Austria, on the other hand, I had both, and there, after a short ,sharp lockdown, they had stalled infections by some mysterious alchemy (probably called “summer”) and were one of the most open countries in Europe. What’s more, where they did impose measures, it was done in a calm, non-judgmental manner, with healthy debate on both sides allowed.

[Note: here my article, as published in The Telegraph, differs most noticeably from the below. This was a no doubt wise editorial choice, but here I go with my original, much more complex – and differently sourced – line of argument. The published version is available to Telegraph subscribers here – AFH.]

One of my first findings on my travels, was that it is very hard to actually gauge how the measures in these different countries feel unless you have lived under them, which, for obvious reasons, most people have not.

The best attempt at putting numerical values on each measure and then comparing them in a vaguely scientific manner is the Corona Government Response Tracker of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. However, even when limited to their estimation of the stringency of government response for the handful of countries mentioned above, the graph is hard to read.

However, if you unpick it, it goes from messy to odd: does anyone really believe France’s authoritarian reaction, where one had to print out certificates to open one’s front door, was even vaguely similar to that of Sweden’s, where life appeared unchanged? Yet observe how similar their graphs appear.

When you average them out the two countries practically merge.

However, perhaps there is something to the work of these social scientists, as on the most concrete of data sets, deaths per capita from COVID-19 – and even that has problems – France and Sweden stand adjacent to one another, ranked 22nd and 23rd respectively. Meanwhile, the UK stands at 5th, Spain at 16th and Austria at 35th.

Which brings one to the question of the effectiveness of these countermeasures, and the ethics and politics – and legality which is what bridges those two fields – of imposing them.

Also, let us not forget efficacy.

One reason Austria feels like lockdown-lite is that they employ around one third of the police per capita that Spain does, and that’s even before they called in the Armed Forces.

Recently leaked emails from within the Swedish government’s epidemiology department show that much of their decision to seek – or, as they might rather phrase it, “not seek to avoid” – herd immunity  was as much as anything the combination of lack of constitutional authority, lack of enforcement capability, and lack of belief people would accept the measures, i.e. efficacy.

Until May 1st, the rest of this article can be found only at The Telegraph online here.

My postcard in The Telegraph: While Britons are imprisoned, Austrians are encouraged to get out, stay fit, and soak up vitamin D

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

TRAVEL

 

While Britons are imprisoned, Austrians are encouraged to get out, stay fit, and soak up vitamin D

Cases have plummeted 90% in Austria, and without the sort of draconian rules Britain has adopted

 

With the snow piling thick on the ground in Salzburg, I am amazed at two things in Austria which I do not think are unrelated.

The first is that neither temperature nor lockdown has in any way affected the average citizens’ visibility in the streets.

When I walk out of my front door on the Nonnberg, adjacent to the ancient convent where Julie Andrew’s portrayed a novitiate in The Sound Of Music, there are invariably locals tramping up and down the stairs and slopes, wading through drifts and sliding across ice, to stare at alpine mountain ranges in the middle distance.

As they say here, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.

The second striking fact about living in Austria is that during this ‘lockdown’ – their third – in which you may leave your house at any time of day or night for any reason, psychological or physical, they have reduced the contagion of this novel coronavirus by 90% since mid-November.

Yes, it is true that bars, restaurants and hotels are all closed, and only one person from a household may visit “close family members” or “important contacts with whom contact is maintained several times a week” in another household.

Until May 1st, the rest of this article can only be found at The Telegraph online here.

My postcard in The Telegraph: Salzburg is well-suited to lockdown – scenic, old-fashioned and healthy

Scenic, old-fashioned and healthy – Salzburg is well-suited to lockdown

Fresh air, regular exercise and a diet of moderation are all we have here until the vaccine comes

My column in The Telegraph: After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

DAILY TELEGRAPH

After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
1st May 2020

After six weeks of house arrest without even the opportunity to go to the village shop like their parents, or to go to the park like their pets, Spain has finally released its children – those aged 14 and under, with supervision, within a kilometre of home, and for no more than one hour a day.

Given that the average size of an apartment in Seville, our regional capital, is less than 600 square feet, one can only marvel that domestic violence has not been a bigger problem.

Of course, with three quarters of a million fines being issued by police and the Guardia Civil during that period, perhaps people did what they naturally do and simply found a way around an impossible set of laws. One could hardly blame them. The social contract is wearing thin.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

One of the categories of fine listed in a recent document from the national government includes €2,000 for “inappropriate attitude”. What exactly would be appropriate right now? Perhaps one should not be surprised that a revenue stream is being taken advantage of as the Spanish economy goes into the steepest decline since the Thirty Years War. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria”

My column in The Telegraph: It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

DAILY TELEGRAPH

It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
16th April 2020

We wake today in our village of Jimena de la Frontera – a full month into lockdown – to the news that the social democrat Prime Minister is planning to extend confinement by another month, while his hard socialist deputy has called for nationalisation of everything up to the coronavirus itself. We live, as the Chinese like to curse, in interesting times.

That same deputy’s criticisms of the Spanish Head of State, King Philip VI, for wearing military uniform in his rather dignified public appearances as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces were ill-advised, though, with even left-wing allies pointing out that their own communist heroes – Che Guavara, Castro, Chavez and Maduro – were wont to adopt the same fashion, although normally to a far darker purpose than Spain’s constitutional monarch.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

Along with the announcement of prolongation, they spoke of a loosening of the lock-down. For example, one can now exit one’s habitation to purchase a “necessary” pizza from the takeaway, rather than just its equally “necessary” frozen cousin from the supermarket. Personally, this writer finds this hardly a loosening of the manacles. And if anyone doubts the reality of those restraints, the view from the balcony of the Spanish Marines questioning anyone leaving buildings on my street is quite clear.  Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn”

My column in The Telegraph: Will the Spanish summer be too hot for the coronavirus?

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here.

 

DAILY TELEGRAPH

Will the Spanish summer be too hot for coronavirus?

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
8th April 2020

Predictably, the left-wing coalition that governs Spain has extended our confinement to quarters. This is done in a singularly Spanish manner: no outdoor exercise, with police or armed forces personnel checking your grocery receipt to ensure you did not dawdle on your way home. With 50,000 fines for breaching the rules in Madrid alone, the government seems to have found a way to raise some of the money they lost putting our economy into what they call “hibernation.”
This is, of course, the same government that defied all medical advice and allowed a third of a million people to march arm-in-arm through the streets of Madrid on International Women’s Day last month. Inevitably, hospitalisations in the capital quadrupled within five days, and the course was set for the present contagion.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

However, after 24 days of climbing the walls and running around the apartment – some 40 miles covered in 1,600 laps of a small two-bedroom flat – the data finally seems to show the curve is not only flattening, but beginning to descend. Here in our little town of Jimena de la Frontera, the voice of hope can be heard, in part because of what many regard as the bane of the town: its summer. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Will the Spanish summer be too hot for the coronavirus?”

My column in The Telegraph: A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here.

DAILY TELEGRAPH

A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
20th March 2020

The Marines rolled into town on Friday to ‘support’ the police and the Guardia Civil. Admittedly they arrived in olive green pick-up trucks, not Humvees or 4-tonners, and were only kitted out with 9mm pistols strapped to their thighs, not full assault rifles, but those who questioned my last postcard from Andalusia, where I spoke of “martial law in all but name”, should be under no illusion about the Spanish style of lockdown.

As I predicted, last week the government extended our fortnight of house-arrest to a full month, and this week they instituted even harsher measures, putting the economy into “hibernation” in the government’s terrifying phrasing. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown”

My column in The Telegraph: Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it

 

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here.

DAILY TELEGRAPH

Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
20th March 2020

It was when they taped off the children’s playground on the Plaza de la Constitución, as though it were a crime scene, that we knew the rumours were true.

All that Saturday the streets had been empty of people save the town’s ex-pat population as the Spanish government debated at every level – local, provincial and national – about what would put on ‘lockdown’ and how. I came down from my balcony to investigate as the local police pinned a notice to the swings, reading “Proclamation: Preventative Measures for the Protection of Citizens against the Coronavirus”, written in the name of the Mayor, and followed by a list of closures ranging from the municipal library to the 12th-century Moorish castle which stands guard over our Andalusian hilltop town.

Knowing that more was sure to come we stayed at Bar Pastor until closing time. The next morning we woke up to find the police sealing that bar, and all the others. It had begun. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it”