Spain's health minister, Salvador Illa

Spain's health minister, Salvador Illa.

25-12-2020Alberto Estévez

Salvador Illa was appointed minister of health in mid-January 2020. In an interview with the Efe news agency, he says that he doesn't regret having accepted Pedro Sánchez's offer to succeed María Luisa Carcedo. "It was a great honour. I have done the best I could. If we had not known that this (the pandemic) was going to happen, the approaches would have been very different. But I do not regret having accepted the position."

Illa believes that the virus took everyone by surprise and that measures were adopted based on the information that was being received. Provisions at that time were felt to be "correct and adequate". Using current data to review decisions made at the start of the first wave is not, in his opinion, "very honest".

"I have to admit that everyone was late, Spain included." However, despite being late and making mistakes, "we were the first to react" by decreeing the state of alarm and lockdown just two days after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.

The minister considers an independent evaluation of actions taken by his ministry, the Spanish government, regional governments and the health services to be "obligatory". But it needs to be "constructive" and conducted by experts from different disciplines. "There have been those who, from day one, have been more interested in fighting the government than in fighting the virus. We want a constructive, measured evaluation that gives us guidelines for the future."

For Illa, one of the most difficult moments was at the end of March and early April. This is when the daily number of deaths was up to almost one thousand. Another one was having to restrict attendance at funerals. "If it is already very painful to have lost a loved one, not being able to say goodbye multiplies that pain."

Despite all the troubles, the minister emphasises the behaviour of the citizens - "exemplary" - and the response by health workers. The pandemic has brought out "the best in ourselves, but sometimes the worst as well". Everyone has images of solidarity. "There have been things which have given goosebumps. Highly spontaneous reactions at a time of great harshness. Everyone has understood that it is necessary to rediscover that community dimension, so that we do not live in isolation."

The third wave of the virus, he observes, began to emerge a few days ago. There was a progressive increase in incidence after regions relaxed measures at the start of December. He is convinced, though, that all regions acted quickly and that results will soon be seen.

Illa stresses the importance of minimising mobility and contacts over Christmas. "We never tire of repeating that Christmas should be spent at home. Let's not move about; just be with our closest family." Spain is prepared to face "what there is to come", with the accent and effort placed on preventing infections to increase considerably.

There is, he accepts, pandemic fatigue. This is affecting health personnel and the general public, but there is an "horizon" - one of five to six months because of the vaccines. After this period, a sufficiently large amount of the population will have been immunised to enable measures to begin to be relaxed "significantly".

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James T / Hace 11 months

Asia and Australasia did much, much better... across divergent political systems and across vast geographical distances... : (

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