None of the three great protagonists of the most difficult decision of an entire generation had planned to be there only two years before. Pedro Sánchez came to power by an unpredictable motion of censure when he was fourth in the polls. Salvador Illa , a man from the PSC apparatus and a philosopher by training, never thought of Health as a ministry for him.
And Fernando Simón, a senior official appointed by the PP, lived in a discreet background since the Ebola crisis. But there they are in mid-March 2020. The three of them know what they are playing at that moment. And they have to decide.
The numbers get complicated by the hour. The total closure, the state of alarm, has been on the table for days, at least since the night of March 8 , when the infected soar in Madrid and the Basque Country, which decide to close schools. Sánchez is not clear about it.
On Tuesday the 10th he still doubts between the opinion of very political ministers, such as José Luis Ábalos or Pablo Iglesias , who are pressing to declare the state of alarm, and those of the economic area, María Jesús Montero and Nadia Calviño , who ask for prudence.
The government has taken all kinds of measures to try to prevent it. Up to two councils of ministers, one of them extraordinary, are trying to find alternatives: they cut flights to Italy, reduce capacity for shows and meetings twice, force telework, ask citizens not to travel. Anything to avoid the collapse of the economy that involves decreeing a state of alarm and sending everyone home indefinitely.
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But the pandemic devours everything. Every decision falls short in hours. The numbers of deaths and infections are multiplying. Simón, who has spent days analyzing all the scenarios with Illa, does not usually speak emphatically. He always sees pros and cons to everything. And let the politicians decide. But this time it is very clear against Sánchez. The virus is getting out of control.
—President, based on the data on how the pandemic is evolving, with the models we are working on, and looking at countries with similar experiences, especially Italy, to control this and that there is not a very serious health problem we have to reduce to the maximum population mobility. There is no other remedy.
There is a long silence in the room. All eyes are on Sánchez. The president leans back in his chair and takes a deep breath.
“Well, let’s do it.” Now we will see how.
It’s been a year of all that now. From here all the political and administrative machinery is put into operation. Sánchez multiplies the calls, consults with his entire team of faithful: Carmen Calvo , Ábalos, Adriana Lastra, Montero, Iván Redondo . The decision is fully matured on Thursday night the 12th . That day, Spain surpasses France as the second country in Europe with the most cases detected, and the European Center for Prevention and Control of Diseases (ECDC) recommends activating measures to alleviate the situation of health systems.
Several communities are already pushing to shut everything down. Even Portugal, with many fewer cases than Spain, decrees the state of calamidade. It is becoming more and more evident that Sánchez is lagging behind. Can’t wait any longer.
The president calls Félix Bolaños, his most trusted man, to prepare the alarm decree with Calvo’s team. The decision is made, but he wants to hear from Illa, who will be the point man in the coming weeks. He calls you and probes you. It is already Friday, the 13th , a day before approving the decree.
“Salva, how would you see the state of alarm?”
“I think it is necessary.” It is the most opportune.
“Why?” Asks the president.
—Because coordinating the measures between the autonomous communities is going to take us longer than necessary, and it is essential to react quickly: we have no margin to agree on anything, every hour is essential.
– Is the Ministry of Health in a position to direct the entire health system?
-Do not. The autonomous communities must continue to have the powers if we want this to work, but we have to be able to make decisions regarding public health and freedom of movement.
Everything rushes. At midmorning, Sánchez calls a videoconference with the four vice presidencies (Calvo, Iglesias, Nadia Calviño and Teresa Ribera), in addition to Ábalos and Illa, joined by two senior Health officials, the Secretary General, Faustino Blanco, and the Undersecretary, Alberto Herrera: this crisis revalues the knowledge of experts, but major decisions continue to have a component outstanding politician.
There is no more discussion. There is a green light for the state of alarm, which will be approved by a Council of Ministers on Saturday the 14th. At the edge of three thirty in the afternoon Sánchez appears on television. After the hesitations of the previous weeks, a new narrative emerges: “We will stop this virus together,” he says in an almost bureaucratic proclamation in which he mixes emotional messages and a warlike language.
The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska; that of Health, Salvador Illa; Defense, Margarita Robles, and Transport, José Luis Ábalos, during the press conference on the coronavirus on March 15, 2020.