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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 13 January 2021
13 January 2021 @ 11:39

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

Covid

Spain. Most predictable statement so far: España tiene garantizadas dosis suficientes para vacunar a toda la población aunque sin garantías de cuándo se administrarán. With aother grandchild due late March, I'm hoping to be done by then so that I can get to the UK without too much difficulty. But am not very optimistic.

Galicia: Our restrictions will be strengthened today, to deal with the totally predictable spike in infections following 3 big family celebrations within 2 weeks. Roll on the vaccinations.

Germany: Bit of a surprise . .  National media and politicians have spent weeks alleging there has been a "planning disaster" around the purchase and distribution of vaccines. With Germany stuck in its second coronavirus lockdown, which was further tightened last week, critics have accused the European Commission of bungling the joint European procurement process. They argue Brussels did not purchase enough of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine — the first available jab on the market and an object of national pride because it was developed in Germany. Strong denials from Brussels and Berlin have cut little ice.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain 

Here's the BBC in the dilemmas being faced by Brits along the Costas. 

On this . .  This is my message to the blog of a chap who claims British 'expats' were lied to during the Brexit campaign about nothing changing. If I'm wrong on this, I really need to know!:-

I'm new to your blog so don't really yet know where you're coming from. And I'm a tad confused by what you write,

Vis a vis Spain, there are 5 basic groups of Brits:

1. Tourists who come to Spain on holiday

2. Those that have property here and used to visit for less than 6 months

3. Those that have property here and used to visit for more than 6 month but - illegally - didn't register as residents

4. Those that have property here and used to visit for more than 6 months but did register as residents

5. Those that have property here and live here all the time and are officially resident here.

Not all of these can be considered expats/emigrants from the UK/immigrants into Spain. But those in group 5 certainly can be and I am one of those

Before the Brexit deal, there was considerable concern about what would change for us. Indeed there is/was a highly vocal group representing us, led by Sue Wilson. But I gauge that there's much less concern now and, to be honest, the only real change that I'm currently aware of for us in group 5 - and probably group 4 - is that we'll have to use the Non-EU line when arriving by air. I'm not aware there'll be different lines from the ferries, as there never have been,

So, as the gravamen of your post is that we real 'expats' were lied to, I'd be genuinely interested to know what other changes will affect me and other members of groups 4 and 5.

Of course, I have no doubt that things will have changed for those in groups 1, 2 and 3 - unless they've by now complied with the British embassy advice to obtain Spanish residency before 31.12.20, with all its tax implications. Perhaps it's fear of the latter which worried all the people reported to be leaving Spain, especially those who had been living below the line, not complying with the legal requirement to register with the padrón and to take out Spanish residency. Those who made the official number of Brits here c.300,000 when the unofficial number is nearer one million. Quite a lot of them, then.

I suspect the BBC report is correct on the profile of the average resident Brit in Spain changing, for one reason and another.

Reader María has commented on the issue of the postal service, saying that it's certainly deteriorated where she lives. She wrote that things had gone missing, which reminded me that years ago I told UK friends and relatives to stop sending things to me. They weren't arriving, though we had no idea in which country they were going astray, of course,

Well, I have an answer to the EHIC/GHIC card question after finding this via Google Images:-

It seems that EHIC cards issued in December only had a (new) Union Jack in the top right hand corner, whereas the GHIC (allegedly) being issued now has it as the entire bloody backcloth as well. Which is not to my taste.

The UK

I'm astonished too see reports of the police declining to compel mask-wearing in supermarkets. In my favoured supermarket in Pontevedra, if your mask slips a fraction below your nose, the staff jump on you. The police don't come into it. Are there really people walking maskless around British shops?

More optimism from Ambrose Evans Pritchard below.

More parochially . . . I learned only yesterday that the Wirral peninsula featured in the late 14th century epic, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as the wilderness off wirral(þe wyldrenesse of wyrale). As it says here, it's changed a bit since then.

The UK & The EU

Northern Ireland residents applying for the new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) will be able to choose one without the (jingoistic) union flag background. Because they're both in the UK and in the EU, I guess. The Protestants will probably go with it but the Catholics without it.

The USA 

US politics: In 1961 the novelist Philip Roth wrote: Actuality is continually outdoing our talents. The culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist. And that was way before Trump.

Trump has defended his speech to his followers before the assault on the Capitol as “totally appropriate”. Well, he would, wouldn't he? Possibly believes it.

One wonders how many of those who for 4 year have attributed Trump Derangement Syndrome to critics have now changed their minds. There must be some. Surely. And not just the companies who've ceased donating to the GOP. Interestingly, the term is now  being used - far more accurately - re Trump supporters who don't accept the 2020 election results. 

Finally . . .

Here's another spoof small ad:-

THE ARTICLE

Britain will break free from economic Covid long before Europe. 

With vaccinations underway, the UK should be able to start dialling down restrictions from February: Ambrose Evans Pritchard.

Once British care home residents and the over-80s are vaccinated, two thirds of potential Covid deaths will be covered. That will come into view within ten days.

The figures have been crunched by Yifei Gong and Stuart McDonald from the Covid 19 Actuaries Response Group, based on analysis of death certificates. It validates the Government strategy of break-neck speed vaccination rather than the European precautionary policy of dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’. 

Some 88%of avoidable deaths will be covered by the time we reach the mid-February target of 13m vaccinations, in principle saving 55,600 lives. These include all the over-70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable, as well as frontline health and social care workers.

* Assuming 1:1 ratio for carers.

Needless to say, this is a theoretical model. Some will refuse a jab, although UK acceptance and trust in scientists is the highest of any major country in the developed West.

Whether the efficacy rate of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is 70% or 80% is a distraction. Not a single volunteer in the group’s clinical trials died or became critically-ill from Covid. For all intents and purposes the vaccine has 100% efficacy against mortality. Personally, I would be equally happy to receive any jab approved by the MHRA.

We are about to go through a lacerating phase where the headline picture keeps getting worse. The death toll will keep rising mechanically into late January as a result of infections dating back to December – when, let us not forget, the Education Secretary was forcing schools to stay open even in zones where cases were spiralling.

Yet at the same time the underlying picture will be improving very fast. My guess is that the atmosphere will change dramatically at the beginning of February as it becomes clear that early vaccinations are progressively pulling down the mortality ratio.

There will then be a flowering of optimism as the UK becomes the first major Western state to approach herd immunity among the vulnerable, clearing the way for post-Covid social and economic revival.

Behind the scenes, the policy debate has already moved on the exit strategy, just as planners switched their focus in early 1943 after El Alamein and Stalingrad to what the world would like after the defeat of Fascism. The exit is what now matters for markets.

The new conflict is between those pushing for eradication, and those arguing that the greater public good is to end coercive restrictions and open up the economy as soon as we reach tolerable levels of immunity.

It is a clash within countries and between them. Simon Powell and Michael Chiang from Jefferies say the world is splitting into two camps: ‘eliminators’ in East Asia, Australia, New Zealand; ‘suppressors’ in the Americas, Europe, and above all the UK, which will embrace freedom sooner.

Acceptance for social repression will drain away in the West “when mortalities from Covid 19 start to resemble influenza in a typical year.”

The zero tolerance states will in a sense be trapped by their own pristine status and absolutist rhetoric, though it is an enviable problem to have. Singapore will have to decide whether it really wants to hold the World Economic Forum in May, or stay closed as far out as 2022, at rising cost to its position as an open global entrepôt. Tough choice.  

The same split is going on internally within the UK. Devi Sridhar, Edinburgh professor of global public health, is leading the push for elimination, arguing that there is “no acceptable level of infection” and that we must keep tight controls in place for most of this year, or risk drifting into another series of lockdowns next winter.

Prof Sridhar has been a prophet of this pandemic – right at almost every stage – and I am loath to disagree now. But there comes a point when zero-risk does more harm than good. You cannot keep nations shut once 88% of potential deaths have been averted.

It is even harder to justify doing so once the over-60s have been vaccinated and the figure rises to 97%, which should be the case by early March. At that point you really are talking about a health dictatorship.

So when should we dial down the restrictions? Time-lag effects obviously pull in opposite directions. Trial data shows that protection is largely gained within ten days of the first jab. After that further delay is icing on the cake. Those ten days extra mean that the top four priority groups are largely safe by Feb 25.

On the other hand, it will take a couple of weeks for infections to pick up again after this lockdown. All told, the Government’s plan to start opening up in the middle of February looks well-calibrated.

Hedge funds and investors will pull this moment forward as soon as the ‘second derivative’ starts to turn, which is probably from now onwards, although they will first want a better sense of whether the NHS is going to topple over and whether the Government can withstand the political trauma of the next month.

Assuming that the worst is averted, prepare for a surge of pent-up investment and a robust rally in sterling. The pound has not seen a relief bounce against the euro since the Brexit deal.

The drama over exploding cases of the B117 variant has obscured the more relevant market story of an early, fast, and extremely successful roll-out of the vaccine.

The UK has gained a potential lead of two months over Europe. The EU’s painfully slow start and its shortage of future doses almost guarantee rolling lockdowns and curfews deep into the spring.

Most EU governments are still in denial about this. They do not have a handle on the extent of the B117 variant in their countries, or other variants, since most of them do almost no genomic sequencing.

They are putting off the inevitable, just as the UK did before Christmas, and just as the whole Western world has done at every juncture since last February. They are understandably alarmed by a fractious political mood.

Public approval for the handling of the pandemic has fallen sharply in almost every state – except Italy, an unexpected paragon of efficiency. It has collapsed in Spain, Belgium, and France. If a view takes hold that leaders have badly botched the vaccination strategy on top of everything else, this mood will become mutinous.

The rating agency Moody’s warned this week that the credit standing of EU states is now a function of how well they manage the next stage of Covid. Public debt levels are already in the red zone in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, and Belgium, but so is private debt in some of these countries. It has exploded to near 350% of GDP in France.

Moody’s said contingent liabilities from Covid debt guarantees and from the banking system could be “crystallised”. This is being masked for now by the bond purchases of the European Central Bank but that is not politically or constitutionally tenable over time. In short, the cost of letting this pandemic run for an extra quarter due to incompetence is likely to be exorbitant.

It is hard to be exact about timing because Brussels has been stonewalling about its vaccine strategy and the delivery schedule of doses. The daily noon briefing for journalists has become a battleground, reaching levels of acrimony not seen since the downfall of the corrupt Santer Commission in 1999.

The Liberal bloc in the European Parliament is demanding “precise answers” to avoid lasting damage to the EU institutions. There are mounting calls for a parliamentary inquiry.

It is a surreal situation. Far from offering answers, Ursula von der Leyen has opened a probe into member states – above all Germany – for violations of a “legally-binding” accord by all 27 members not to order extra vaccines on the side. Berlin is in the dock for trying to secure adequate doses of its own home-grown BioNTech vaccine in order to save the lives of its own citizens. If you want to undermine German political consent for the European Project, you hardly find a better way.

We do not yet know exactly how bad the vaccine shortage in Europe is going to be. A string of states have made such a mess of the roll-out that they are far from exhausting their doses. But Denmark is already running low after its fast start, and has decided to delay the second BioNTech jab to six weeks. Others are following.

The Pfizer-BioNTech doses are coming in dribs and drabs. The Moderna supplies are symbolic at this point. The European Medicines Agency has not yet approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It will make a statement on Jan 29. The weeks slip by.

For now the UK is Plague Island and attention is riveted on the harrowing ordeal of the NHS. But that is a snapshot in time. The shape of British and European politics may look very different in a month.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant. 



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