Ambassador of Spain to the UAE Antonio Alvarez Barthe
Ambassador of Spain to the UAE Antonio Alvarez Barthe has thanked the UAE government for cooperating with Spain in fight against coronavirus. Image Credit:

Dubai: Spain’s fight against coronavirus is making progress as the pandemic is slowing down in the country, said the country’s top diplomate in the UAE.

“Our greatest satisfaction when tackling this crisis is acknowledging that we have an extraordinary public health system that is working day and night in all regions of the country to face the COVID-19 pandemic. In this sense, our lesson would be to keep supporting a robust public health system open to all citizens and residents in our country,” said Antonio Alvarez Barthe, Ambassador of Spain to the UAE.

In an interview with Gulf News, the Spanish Ambassador said death toll in Spain was high because more than 60 per cent of people who died due to coronavirus were over 80-year-old.

During the interview, Ambssador Alvarez also talked about cooperation between the UAE and Spain and the measures being taken to overcome the coronavirus pandemic in his country which is the second worst-hit European country with more than 172,000 COVID-19 cases and over 18,000 deaths recorded till April 14.

Full interview

*What sort of cooperation are you getting from the UAE?

The dialogue between Emirati and Spanish authorities on how best tackle the pandemic has intensified in recent weeks, with phone calls between His Majesty King Felipe VI and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, we are very grateful that the Minister of the Interior Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed is personally organising a noteworthy aid delivery to Spain in the coming days.

*How are the Spanish expatriates in the UAE helping their country and people in this difficult time?

We have a very active and dynamic Spanish community in the UAE, with more than 8,000 residents, who are being part of the response to this crisis from the very first moment.

In this sense, the community is supporting the crisis response at all levels and an important aid shipment by the community will also be organised in the next few days.

*Spain has become the second most affected country in Europe after Italy and it is being largely blamed on the late response from the Spanish authorities. What do you say on this?

While it may be true that all over the world the speed of the virus transmission was underestimated in the first stages, I consider it unfair to say that there was a late response by our country to the pandemic.

Spain followed and continues to follow at all times the recommendations by health authorities and experts at international and national levels. As soon as the impact of the pandemic became apparent, extreme measures were adopted, which are already yielding positive results. As a matter of fact, these very stringent measures were taken in Spain when the number of casualties due to coronavirus was still relatively low. Other countries only took similar measures when their death toll was much higher.

*Spain has recorded more than 18000 deaths with more than 170,000 cases. What is the reason behind this massive death toll and who are the people who suffered the most?

There are two positive elements that have played against us in dealing with this pandemic. Spain has the highest life expectancy in the European Union and the third in the world and we know that this pandemic is especially sensitive for the elderly. More than 60% of deaths in Spain were of people over 80 years old.

Furthermore, we are the second most visited country in the world, with the corresponding movement of people that come and go to our country from many countries in the world.

On another note, there is certain controversy regarding the official numbers of infected, deceased and recovered in the different countries. In this discussion it is necessary to take into account that:

• Spain is acting with full transparency.

• There is no consensus on the different measuring parameters in the different countries.

• The latest figures show a stabilisation and slowdown of the epidemic in Spain, which prove that our fight against the pandemic is making progress.

*How did Spain respond to the situation?

As soon as the seriousness of the situation was confirmed, the government adopted the most extreme possible measures well before other affected countries, decreeing a national state of alarm, establishing the confinement of citizens and the closure of land borders with our neighbours. I want to commend here the exemplary behaviour of the Spanish society, which has followed these very hard measures with great discipline and responsibility.

From the economic point of view, our Government has established a contingency plan that will mobilise 200 billion euros to cushion the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the most vulnerable (the unemployed, the self-employed, SMEs, etc.).

We are also intensely encouraging an international response to the crisis, be it at the United Nations level, G-20 or EU, as the fight against a virus that knows no borders must necessarily be global.

*How was the situation brought under control? What lessons were learnt?

As of today, both the contagion rate and death toll have dropped in a very meaningful manner from the peak of the crisis, on April 2, and we continue to work at all levels to minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Our greatest satisfaction when tackling this crisis is acknowledging that we have an extraordinary public health system that is working day and night in all regions of the country to face the epidemic. In this sense, our lesson would be to keep supporting a robust public health system open to all citizens and residents in our country.

*When do you think the life be normal in Spain?

At this stage, no country is in a position to give a precise timing for the de-escalation phase.

Nevertheless, our Primer Minister Pedro Sánchez, has announced that the state of alarm will probably last until mid-May and, depending on the evolution of the disease, life will gradually return to normal in the different sectors. On Monday, April 13th, certain non-essential sectors of activity returned to work in this framework of progressive normalisation.

*Did the European countries come forward to help Spain in tough time?

In recent weeks, we have received donations of medical supplies and equipment from many European partners such as Germany, the Czech Republic or Lithuania, to name a few.

On the other hand, at the European level and under the stimulus of our Prime Minister, it is very important to succeed in adopting a coordinated and solidary response to the crisis.

The EU Finance Ministers managed to seal a first agreement on April 9, with a triple safety net for workers, companies and governments in order to approach the economic impact of COVID-19. Further progress in this direction is necessary, including progress on debt-sharing and a comprehensive reconstruction plan.