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Even as some countries tentatively begin to lift lockdown restrictions, political leaders across Europe are facing growing outrage over what critics view as a botched response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Spain, the nightly applause for health care workers has begun to mix with protests against prime minister Pedro Sánchez, with residents shouting out of their windows and banging pots and pans to denounce his management of the public health crisis.
“There is more applause than shouting, but the detractors of Pedro Sánchez and his government are growing more numerous by the day,” HuffPost Spain reported.
Spain has been one of the nations hit hardest by the pandemic, with more than 160,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the highest number in Europe — and more than 17,000 deaths, second only to Italy, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 500,000 cases have been reported in Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, and more than 60,000 people in those countries have died.
The daily death toll in Spain has begun to fall in recent days, however, and some nonessential workers were allowed to return to work on Monday. Still, many officials criticised the decision to relax the lockdown restrictions. Catalan President Quim Torra called the move ”reckless and imprudent,” while Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of Madrid, warned that another wave of infections would be “unforgivable.”
On Sunday, Sánchez called for the “de-escalation of political tensions” and urged all parties to join together in a “grand pact for the economic and social reconstruction of the country.”
“No one can win this war alone,” he said. “Only united will we beat the virus.”
In France, where president Emmanuel Macron is set to announce the need for the country’s lockdown to continue for several more weeks at least, criticism of the government’s response to the crisis has increased as well.
According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll released Saturday, 58% of French people believe the government is mishandling the outbreak, compared with 37% who approve of its response. For three weeks, the trend has been consistent: A majority of French people continue to support the containment measures that have been implemented, but disapprove of the government’s overall response.
“Generally speaking, in the measures adopted, there is a mixture of excellence and mediocrity,” William Dab, France’s former director general of health, told Le Monde over the weekend. “Excellence is care. Hundreds of lives have been saved by the heroism of caregivers and carers, as well as by an unprecedented effort that has doubled our resuscitation capacities and relieved congestion in saturated hospitals.”
Even as he praised health care workers, however, Dab warned that the national lockdown put the burden of containing the virus on everyday citizens, who would suffer financially and psychologically from any lengthy period of isolation. He criticized the government for what he viewed as a lack of action.
“In terms of prevention, we are not up to the epidemic,” he said.
In Italy, where the nationwide lockdown has been in place for a month, people are beginning to chafe at the restrictions as well.
“We are not allowed to enjoy the fresh air, even for a walk. I dream of being able to go out for an hour a day,” one woman in Cuneo, Piedmont, told HuffPost.
“I am bored at home. I try to take care of myself as best I can, but I’m fed up,” another woman based near Naples said.
“It seems clear to me that there are signs of intolerance among the population,” psychiatrist and writer Paolo Crepet told HuffPost Italy. “When I talk to people on the phone, the background noise is like children yelling and screaming. Parents against children, children against parents. This is the mood in Italian homes.”
In the United Kingdom, which could have the worst coronavirus death rate in Europe, opposition leaders have been trying to walk a fine line between supporting the national effort to combat the outbreak while still holding prime minister Boris Johnson’s government to account.
Keir Starmer, the newly elected leader of the Labour Party, said Sunday that now is “not the time to ask difficult questions” about whether the government’s response was too slow.
“I’m trying to resist calls for apologies or criticising past decisions,” he said. “I will work with the government on this. We will support them in trying to get this right.”
Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, similarly told the BBC that the “unprecedented” nature of the crisis had required the country to adopt restrictions that would be difficult for any government to implement.
“To be fair to the government, this is quite unprecedented for Britain, and we’re a country that has always taken civil liberties very seriously,” she said. “These are big measures the government has taken over the past couple of weeks, and not a foreseeable crisis.”
Still, Nandy said, while the Labour Party would support the lockdown measures that have been put into place, it would be wrong to let Johnson’s administration off the hook completely.
“It is also right to acknowledge that in some areas, we haven’t been able to act quickly enough,” she said. “When we come out the other side of this … I think we do really need to reflect on how we need to change as a country. We should never again be in a position where our public services don’t have the resilience they need to respond, and where families are only one step away from financial collapse.”
With reporting from HuffPost Spain, HuffPost France and HuffPost Italy.