“I have been paranoid throughout the pandemic, I did not go out even last summer for fear of infecting my parents,” explains Mercè Pampin, a 24-year-old girl from Barcelona, on the other end of the phone, confined. 10 days ago he went to have a few drinks in an apartment in the Clot neighborhood. “It wasn’t a massive thing either, we had to be about 10 people.” Of the four friends who accompanied her, three of them also have COVID-19.
Catalonia studies asking the Justice for a night curfew by municipalities
Pampin’s story is repeated with slight differences in a dozen young people interviewed. Almost all have a common denominator: the feeling that the pandemic was a thing of the past, that the rate of vaccinations was inexorably tilting the balance towards a return to normalcy. There is also a feeling that they have been recklessly exposed to the virus at festivals and venues where they had been assured they were safe.
The fifth wave has caught the country’s youth off guard. The security that having vaccinated parents gave them, the triumphalist messages from the authorities and the reopening of nightlife have created a cocktail that has triggered the incidence in this group as never before, with more than 1,200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants among minors between 20 and 29 years old. In Catalonia, the incidence in this age group exceeds 2,160 cases.
“It is difficult to find a single cause of the current disaster”, points out Salvador Macip, doctor in Molecular Genetics and Human Physiology and researcher at the University of Leicester (United Kingdom) and the UOC. This doctor points out the lack of foresight in the face of what was happening in the United Kingdom with the delta variant, a reopening that was too early and the false sense of security that the good vaccination rate and the removal of the masks provided.
“It was doing the selectivity and thinking that the good was coming,” says Joan – he prefers not to publish his surname -, a 17-year-old resident of Arenys de Mar (Barcelona). “School was over and the pandemic was over at the same time.” He was one of those who got infected on a trip to Menorca in mid-June. Now, after having been “very screwed up” with a high fever and isolated in his room, he admits that he looks with different eyes at the risk posed by the coronavirus. “It may seem like a cliché but my point of view has changed,” he says.
The same was an informal meeting to have a few drinks in a flat, or a dinner or a Eurocopa match. Maybe a night of partying in which they were assured that they were safe or a festival with protocols approved by the health authorities. Almost no one is able to specify exactly where it was infected – they only have suspicions – but a large part of those interviewed remember that all the scenarios and plans in which they have participated this last month were totally legal.
“We are portrayed as irresponsible when we have not done anything that is forbidden,” said Pau, 23, on Monday, positive after having attended the Canet Rock festival in Canet de Mar (Barcelona), where 25,000 people who had spent a antigen test. “There was no distance or masks or anything, you could go to the bar and order without a mask.”
“We could have been more responsible, but the gambling dens as well,” explained Marta Pastrano, an 18-year-old from Madrid, a journalism student and infected on a trip to Almería. “I’ve been to a lot of places where even the waiters weren’t wearing a mask.”
Pastrano admitted that she “humps” having contracted the virus after having been careful throughout the pandemic. “I finished school and I did not have a graduation or a trip, I have been at home all winter being prudent and I have not gone out to party,” he explained by phone during his quarantine. The vaccination of her parents and grandparents made her lower her guard, she went out with her friends and ended up contracting COVID-19 without knowing exactly where. “It is a mystery of life,” he concluded.
Lucía Canitrot, 27 years old, answers the phone confined from Vigo. He explains that during this year and a half of the pandemic, he hardly knew anyone who had been infected. “I haven’t been very careful until now,” he admits. “I was even surprised that no one in our group had caught him before.” Now there are more than 20 his friends confined, 11 of them have tested positive and he does not know exactly where he was infected.
The controversy of festivals in Catalonia
With nightlife closed and just 72 hours before new restrictions were announced in Catalonia, more than 10,000 people danced on Saturday at the wee hours of the morning at the Fòrum de Barcelona at the Cruïlla Festival. It was not an anomaly: in the last two weeks, with the cases triggered, three major festivals have been held in Catalonia in which there has been no safety distance between the attendees. Between the three events there are almost 100,000 attendees.
The three events –Vida, Canet Rock and Cruïlla– have been presented as “observational studies” or “pilot tests”, according to their organizers, which had a protocol agreed upon with both the Department of Health and the Department of Interior of the Generalitat. To enter, it was mandatory to pass an antigen test and wear a mask. The first requirement was met. The second no, especially at Canet Rock and Vida, according to several of his interviewed assistants.
“I was DJing with the mask and I felt ridiculous, I was the only one in the whole festival who wore it,” explains a DJ who performed at the Vida festival on Friday July 2 and the following Tuesday tested positive for COVID-19. “I know at least 15 people who are the same,” he says.
The origin of these festivals were the successful tests that were held in Barcelona in December 2020 in the Apolo hall, with 500 attendees, and in April 2021 in the Palau Sant Jordi, with 5,000 people. Several of the attendees consulted, however, say that the festivals have had nothing to do with those experiments: the masks were conspicuous by their absence and there were scenes of chaos during the screening.
“Most of the people did not wear the mask, not even in the queues to take the test,” explains Carolina Iglesias, 41, who attended the first night of the Vida festival. That day the computer system failed and some of the attendees had to wait more than three hours to take the test.
Despite the fact that it has been 10 days since its celebration, the Department of Health has not wanted to answer if it has identified an outbreak at the Vida festival or at the Canet Rock (Cruïlla was held a few days ago). “The results will be communicated when the analysis has been carried out by the Public Health Agency,” the Department responds.
“The thing about the festivals has been absurd,” says researcher Macip. “They were based on experiments from months ago with the Alpha variant, not the current one. It seems that no one has understood that the pandemic changes every month.” According to this researcher, it was “madness” to do these festivals by setting everything to an antigen test at the entrance. “We know that these tests fail, they cannot be used as a passport to have a party,” he added.
Data on the number of positives detected before entering Canet Rock may be indicative of the circumstances in which it celebrated: out of 22,000 attendees, 152 positives were found. For epidemiologists, when there are 150 positives per 100,000 inhabitants, it is already considered a “high risk” of contagion.
“This contagion rate coincided a lot with that of the young people of Catalonia at the time of the festival,” they defend themselves from Canet Rock, before explaining that when the contest began to be designed with the authorities, the numbers of contagions were going to lowers it. A few days after its start, the incidence rose exponentially but they did not receive “any warning or any hint” from the Government to cancel the event.
The Minister of Health, Josep Maria Argimon, admitted on Monday that the dates on which these festivals took place were not “epidemiologically the best” and pointed out that he “did not like” seeing images of young people crowded together without masks. The Minister of Culture, Natàlia Garriga, defended the celebration of these events although she admitted that in their celebration “a certain incoherence” could be appreciated.
One kickback in three weeks
“Masks give way to smiles.” With this triumphant message, the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, announced on June 23 the withdrawal of the mandatory mask to go down the street. To some it reminds them of the “we have defeated the virus” pronounced by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, during the same time last year.
Just three weeks later, the Valencian Community has decreed a curfew in 32 municipalities, the Canary Islands have also requested it and the Catalan Government, which announced on Monday that it restricts meetings to 10 people and advances the closure of non-essential activities to those 0.30 h, it is also raised. The previous week the closure of nightlife was decreed to stop a rise in cases that remains uncontrolled.
“It seems that to reopen in Spain the calendar and not the figures”, says Macip. “The main mistake was not looking at what was happening in the UK with the Delta variant.” According to this doctor, with a similar situation in February neither nightlife nor tourism would have been opened.
While the restrictions are once again spreading throughout the country, Mercè Pampin has long days confined to her home in Barcelona, where she has been locked up for a week. He assures that he feels anger for having lowered his guard after a year and a half complying with what was asked of him. She feels guilty, but she also believes that she is not the only one responsible. “It seemed that the pandemic was over and we have given ourselves a good host,” he concluded on Monday with a nasal voice because of the snot.