How does one define ten times the base rate of extreme? | TERESA AYUGA¶


It was one of those Balearic government Covid posters. Blu-tacked inside a lift, it offered a reminder about “levels” - number four and risk is “extreme”. I stared at it long enough to realise that it no longer made much sense.

There was a time when 14-day incidence above 250 (which qualified as “extreme” risk; still does) and corresponding restrictions because of risk did make some sort of sense. But now? Lord knows what classification should apply to the municipality of Ibiza. How does one define ten times the base rate of extreme?

Ibiza has been above 2,500 for days. On Tuesday, twenty-two of the 67 municipalities in the Balearics were at least three times the extreme base. Only four were not extreme, and two of those were zeroes - Deya and Escorca.

They aren’t totally meaningless, but the daily data - up, down, round and round - have become part of the routine. They’re like the weather forecast. “There’ll be a high of 36C in Calvia, and the incidence high is 1336.3. Have a nice day.” Aemet issues its temperature alerts, and public health offers advice for high temperatures.

But where, public health, is the Covid risk advice? At that level of incidence, should beachgoers in Calvia not be kitted out in full PPE gear? As for Ibiza - cordoned off and army tanks deployed.

Covid and Covid data seem to have been with us for a lifetime, but it was only at the end of last October when a perimeter closure of Manacor was decreed. There was an incidence of 458. Look at Manacor now - 1017.4 and in the same extreme boat as Ibiza or Deya. Zero Deya may be (may have been; it isn’t any longer), but it’s in Mallorca, and Mallorca is 3.5 times the extreme base.

The incidence levels are wild. Far wilder than Manacor’s once were and when Manacor was placed in a form of lockdown. The citizens of that city are now perfectly free to come and go, only needing to be aware not to be gathering socially with non-cohabitants between the hours of 1am and 6am - just like everyone else, be they in Deya or Ibiza.

The vaccination has of course brought about a change in approach as has the vague notion of living with Covid. This life with the virus is meaning that these wild numbers no longer hold the meaning they once did. We have acquired a Covid immunity of not being fazed by extreme figures and by the extreme risk that they represent, or so the poster about levels seeks to remind us. Or have we?

Politicians in Mallorca have a dictionary of discourse that is limited to a few essential entries. One of these is self-criticism. Especially popular in recent months, the path to righteousness is announced in debate, and so commitments there are to self-criticism, except when it is felt to be unnecessary; the handling of the Spanish students’ affair has been a case in point.

Opposition parties demand that governments (regional and national) are self-criticial. Governments hear these demands, or say they do, or pre-empt them by promising self-criticism (unless they prefer not to). Individual parties suffering inner torments admit to the need to be self-critical: the disastrous Ciudadanos and the imploding El Pi, for instance.

Such self-criticism - more alluded to rather than actual, one suspects - rarely reaches beyond the walls of a political inner sanctum. If it does, then one never hears about it. Sports teams will definitely engage in self-criticism, it has become part of their culture, but who else? The media?

A recent opinion piece referred to self-criticism. It was in the travel publication Preferente. The need for self-criticism, it was argued, was because of lies in the context of data regarding Covid and tourism developments. But by lies, what this piece really meant was the propensity to exaggerate; to play on the wildness of figures. Unless one believes Covid to be some sort of grand scam, thus rendering all data a lie, the data are factual. But it’s how you treat facts that is important. This was the point being made.

This article said that there is a fact “that we should all clarify, including health authorities, because ... the number of (Covid) cases usually means practically nothing”. This is by contrast with when ten per cent of infections were resulting in hospital admissions and deaths, and so therefore when Manacor could have been placed in lockdown and now is not.

No, the cases aren’t totally meaningless, but I get the point nonetheless. It’s precisely why I can look at a government poster about levels and wonder what purpose it now serves. There is a wildness of numbers and a consequent wildness of their reporting, just as there can be of tourism developments, such as with big fat percentage increases (or decreases) of the blindingly obvious variety, courtesy of the distortions caused by Covid.