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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: 17 January 2021
17 January 2021 @ 12:33

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'  


Below there’s another (long) dose of informed common sense from the medical correspondent of Private Eye.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain 

This is another article on the plight of those Brits in Spain who never took out the residence they should have. And who perhaps should have been more aware of what was coming down the track.

And the second article below sets out some of the tax consequence for those non-residents who’ve got property here and rent it out. It’s one of the few I’ve read saying the real number of Brits here is (was?) between 800,000 and 1 million.

María's New Year, Same Old: Day 15

The USA 

So, there really might be a god? Experts say events of the past week has made Trump’s reputation toxic. He might leave the White House poorer than when he entered - a feat not matched by any of his recent predecessors who went on to earn millions from after-dinner speaking and book deals. 

But, of course, None of this will stop Mr Trump pursuing new ventures, with speculation rife that he will launch a media company.

Finally . . .

An epitaph to die for? Patricia Highsmith was an execrable human being but a writer of genius. Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Price of Salt/Carol.


1.  COVID 10 REVIEW.  ‘MD’, Private Eye.

Seasoned adversary 

Much is still unknown about how this pandemic will play out, but from the outset two predictions were likely to come true; I. We would need vaccines to outfox the virus; 2. The times of highest risk for further waves would be the autumn return to school, university and work. And winter. 

The good news is that we now have two vaccines approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). lf we stay afloat until the spring physically, mentally and economically- the purgatory could finally end. The bad news is the winter surge is as bad as we could have predicted, and we are behind the curve again. 

Pandemic rules 

The first rule of pandemics is tough: there is no option that won't cause significant harm. The second rule sounds simple; the sooner you act, the less the harm, both from the virus and the measures put in to control it. But no politician likes causing significant harm, even if it prevents greater harm. So over-optimistic dithering is too often the norm. 

Home secretary Priti Patel claims the government has been "consistently ahead of the curve in its response to the coronavirus", but the evidence suggests otherwise. There is a subtle but important difference between acting fast to prevent a crisis and acting fast having precipitated a crisis through inaction. 

Two schools 

Two schools of thought emerged at the start of this pandemic; a) do whatever it takes to suppress the virus to an absolute minimum; and b) contain the virus at a reproductive rate less than I. Had we known in March we would have vaccines in December, it would have been easier to sell suppression. It requires harsher measures earlier, but once numbers are low they are much easier to keep there with test and trace. Containment measures are less harsh but there is much less margin of error. Miss a surge and you get caught out by exponential growth, test and trace can't cope and you end up in harsh measures anyway, but with far more deaths. We're here for the third time now. 

Made in the UK 

MANY other countries are struggling to contain winter waves but, as in spring and autumn, our current outbreak is one of the largest. And variant strains are most likely to thrive in countries that have long-standing poor control and plenty of opportunity for natural selection (eg the UK and South Africa). 

The advantage of being an island is that you can control your borders to keep the virus out. But if you nurture a new variant, other countries can control their borders to keep you out. Alas, for many of the 40 countries that promptly isolated the UK, the variant had probably already arrived. 

Hello, B.1.1.7, aka VUI 202012/01 

UK science is very good at spotting and sequencing new strains, if not naming them. The variant under investigation (VU1 first emerged m September and has spent months competing for dominance. It appears to have a transmission rate that is 71 percent higher than for other variants, so no wonder it has been selected to thrive. It may also pack a higher viral load, be harder to test for and be more transmissible by children. On the upside, the vaccines should still work.     .    . 

Even if we hadn't spotted this new variant, it was clear from rising hospital admissions m early December that we had a big problem. 

Winter woe 

The NHS is always overloaded in winter, not least from the consequences of respiratory viruses. We now have more hospital admissions with Covid than we did at the spring peak, With the effects of Christmas mixing yet to be felt. Our treatment has improved, but that als~ means people are staying in hospital for longer, m wards and units that are more spaced out. 

On 29 December, 23 hospital trusts had more than a third of their beds occupied by Covid-l9 patients, and occupancy was rising across the UK. Our safety net was to spend £220m on Nightingale hospitals with more than I0,000 beds to relieve the pressure. Alas, we can t staff them and they have been barely used. 

Christmas message 

With admissions rising in early December, we could have used the good news of imminent vaccines to tighten restrictions further, move Christmas to July, postpone non-essential pleasures and reduce the obvious risk of mixing indoors. When the vaccines kick in, there will be a massive rebound in fortunes and goodwill for the tourism, travel, art, retail, entertainment and hospitality sectors. They should be supported to survive until the spring. We are delaying gratification, not ending it entirely. Most people would have understood that message. 

But we relaxed and carried on mixing. Boris Johnson even declared it would be 'inhuman' to cancel his five-day, three-household Christmas spread-fest, days before a sudden U-tum. It was a gift for the virus. 

Mutant on the loose 

Words are how we change the world, and if  you want people to panic in a pandemic 'mutant' is up there with 'zombie' and 'flesh-eating'.Tell people a mutant strain of Covid 19 is rampaging through London and the South-east, as health secretary Matt Hancock and Johnson did to justify their last-minute reversal, and they're as likely to pack like sardines on the last last train out of St Pancras as to isolate sensibly indoors, increasing spread across the UK rather than reducing it. Cries from Hancock that this was  "grossly irresponsible'' had little effect given his prior support for Dominic Cummings. 

With citizens fleeing the mutant and countries isolating from us, we tried a linguistic downgrade from "mutant" o "variant". But the spreading was done and we'd labelled ourselves Plague Island to boot, at precisely the time we were selling ourselves to the world as a nation. Come trade and plague with us! 

Personal responsibility 

Many people gave up listening to John matters pandemic when he nearly died a, round of hospital handshakes. Many had to cancel Christmas, or curtail it, long be 11th-hour reversal. Many have followed rules religiously throughout. And some h ended up in hospital with Covid. Others I caught Covid in hospital. 

Irrespective of the competence of our political leadership, a virus that spreads quickly and silently can only be slowed if enough of us stick to the rules. We haven't. The British thirst for freedom, individualism and ignoring experts gives us great art and comedy, but dreadful infection control. We can resist everything but temptation. We will always find selfish excuses to bend break the rules and justify our risky behaviour.

The wide variation in Covid deaths per head of different populations tells its own story. In countries of at least 20m inhabitants, deaths range from more than one in every 1,000 (UK and US9 to one per 2,500 (Canada, Germany), one per 29,000 (Australia), one per 65,000 (South Korea), one per 325,000 (Kenya) and one per 3,400,000 (Taiwan).  In the lowest-risk countries, a major incident is declared if a handful of cases emerge and rapid action is taken to isolate. In the UK, we tolerate tens of thousands of new cases a day. Why? 

First among unequals 

If the Sars-CoV-2 virus harmed everyone equally including children, more people would take it seriously. Some young, fit patients have suffered but the virus has predominantly harmed the elderly, the disabled, the poor and those with pre-existing conditions. Some of those at low risk argue that they should be free to go about their business while those at high risk are shielded. 

The moral debate on shielding could outlast the pandemic, but it was never workable. The has huge numbers of people at risk of premature death or harm not just from Covid but all manner of non-contagious diseases. There are 25m people in the higher-risk vaccine categories by dint of age, disease or disability. It would be impossible to shield them all even if it were desirable. 

More pertinently, the UK has tolerated these alarming health inequalities for decades. Covid merely highlights them. If you don't mind living in a country where the poorest die a decade younger than the richest and suffer 20 more years of chronic disease, you're probably not too fussed if the same people die from Covid or aren't able to get care for their other diseases because Covid has overwhelmed the NHS. Even after vaccination, the inequalities will remain. There is a vast amount of levelling up to do. +

Vaccination roll-out 

Ww were first to approve a vaccine, but Israel has quickly overtaken us in the roll-out. While our vaccines sat in fridges over the festive break, it managed 11.55 vaccination doses per 100 people (the UK is at 1.47). By 2 January, 41 percent of Israelis over 60 had already received their first vaccine. Well done. 

Approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine gives grounds for optimism, in the UK and across the world. It is much easier to transport and store than Pfizer BioNTech 's vaccine and will be far more affordable globally, where it will be sold at cost price in perpetuity. Thank you. 

With infections rising fast, the aim in the UK is to give the most benefit to the most people in the shortest time, and the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) believes the best way to do this is to give most of the higher-risk individuals a single dose of either vaccine before giving anyone a second dose (up to 12 weeks later). Their view from the trial data is that a single dose will confer significant protection, although we don't yet know if it reduces transmission. The logic is sound but delaying a second dose too long could make it less effective or increase the risk of a resistant strain emerging. 

It's also a disappointment for a million people who will now have their second Pfizer jab postponed, and a time-consuming pain in the arse for the staff who have to phone them. The rest of us will join a queue and be offered whatever vaccine is available at the time. I would happily have either and be grateful. 

Thousands of vets, dentists and retired doctors and nurses have volunteered to vaccinate but are being held up by ludicrous bureaucracy. If they make it through the paperwork, they also need to be vaccinated (especially those over 50) before putting themselves at risk. Indeed, anyone whose essential work is high-risk should be vaccinated as soon as possible. 

Testing in schools 

Having cried "MUTANT!" and while waiting to discover if the new variant spreads faster in children, the government should not be surprised that many teachers and parents would rather adopt the precautionary principle and keep schools closed. Mass testing of pupils with lateral flow tests is an unproven experiment. You should always act on a positive result (likely to be accurate) but not be reassured by a negative one. Analysis suggests they pick up only half the active infections, which is better than nothing but hardly fool-proof. And you need to trace and isolate contacts, which we're still struggling with. 

As one Tier 3 contact tracer told MD: 'Many people who should be self-isolating don't find out until Day 7 or later. We publish 'the percentage of contacts traced', but if they're traced so late, what's the point? 1 spoke to someone today who'd just discovered they should have been isolating nine days earlier.'

Long and short of it 

It took us 2.4bn years to evolve from single cells to the most dominant species on the planet, yet microorganisms that evolve in our destructive wake can still outfox us. Mutations occur at random, but we create the context that allows microbes to cross species to us. We cut down forests to displace animals from their natural habitats, and we transport, rear and slaughter them inhumanely. We are ultimately responsible for our predicament. 

But whatever tier we're in, we can still read, nap, watch, walk, talk, taste, hope and help those who are really struggling.

Homely New Year.  

2. How much tax will I pay in Europe after Brexit? David Byers, The Times  


The biggest single tax danger concerns hundreds of thousands of Spanish holiday homes that are let for at least some of the year when their owners are back in the UK. Non-EU citizens who own Spanish property must pay 24% on rental income rather than the 19% that applies for owners from EU nations.

Spanish tax authorities do not allow non-EU property owners to deduct any expenses — a benefit that is granted to EU citizens — so they must pay tax on their gross rental income. This could trigger a huge increase in tax bills. If an income of €1,000 a week were generated for six months over the holiday season it would produce gross income of €24,000 for the year. If expenses of €14,000 were incurred, a tax bill of €1,900 would have been due before Brexit. Now that Britain is no longer part of the EU, the payment will triple to €5,760, according to Robert Pullen, a partner at the accountancy firm Blick Rothenberg.

If you are an expat selling your main home in Spain, you would have a capital gains tax (CGT) rate of 19 per cent. When Britain was in the EU, there was a CGT exemption provided that the seller relocated within the European Economic Area. Now that Britain is not in the EEA, the tax must be paid.

Spanish rental income must be reported and tax paid a month after it is received, while taxes on property sales must be handled by a Spanish property lawyer when the transaction happens.

Between 800,000 and 1 million British citizens live in property they own in Spain or have a second home there.

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