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‘Sick Man of Europe’

Verily has it been reduced to the position of the “sick man of Europe”, the appellation that was once given to a European country facing economic difficulties or impoverishment.

The Statesman Desk | New Delhi |

Coronavirus has brought Spain ~ roiled by an economic crisis and sub-regional jingoism in Catalonia for the past several years ~ to its knees. Verily has it been reduced to the position of the “sick man of Europe”, the appellation that was once given to a European country facing economic difficulties or impoverishment.

The term was first used in the mid-19th century to describe the Ottoman Empire. Spain’s death toll has surpassed China’s; Tuesday was the country’s deadliest day yet with a whopping 849 fatalities in a span of 24 hours, and the total soared to a grim 8189.

Indeed, Spain has broken the record in any country, dampening hopes that it could have passed the peak of the crisis that has debilitated the country for weeks. And yet the government in Madrid betrays almost an incredible degree of cruel insensitivity with the relentless crackdown that is somewhat curiously aimed at reducing deaths and limiting the spread of the infection ~ a curious blend of the revolting and the rational.

A total of 9,222 people tested positive for the virus, raising the number of confined patients to 94,417 ~ more than China’s 82,240 but less than the six-digit tallies recorded in Italy and the United States. Police brutality to enforce the lockdown ~ there have been 12 “closures” of policemen in West Bengal ~ appears to be the strand that binds India to Spain.

Whereas the response must of necessity be sympathetic and in the form of counselling, the tough posturing and muscle-flexing can only exacerbate one of the deadliest crises humanity has faced. Under Spain’s state of emergency regulations, citizens can only go out alone to buy food, seek medical care, for emergencies or to work in essential industries.

The compulsion is almost inevitably economic, yet the movement of men and women has been greeted with a stiff dose of highhandedness by the law-enforcement authorities. Sad to reflect, the high-handedness has afforded a new facet to the pandemic, which far from being contained is soaring uncontrollably.

In battered Italy, which follows Spain, flags flew at half-mast on Tuesday during a minute of silence in memory of the 11,500 people who have perished. In Spain and Italy, health workers are said to be working in nightmarish conditions.

If data advanced by America’s Johns Hopkins University is any indication, “hard-hit Spain and Italy have already overtaken China and now account for more than half of the nearly 38,000 deaths worldwide.” And the tally keeps rising. There are tears to be dried in the hospitals as well as on the roads.