Illa: "The most difficult thing was prohibiting family members from attending funerals"

Pedro Sánchez and Salvador Illa, during the presentation of the book. / Eph

The former Minister of Health defends his management of the pandemic and believes that confinement was "a success because it improved the situation in the ICUs"

Alvaro Soto

On January 10, 2020, Salvador Illa's life changed forever. That day, this little-known Catalan politician, former mayor of a relatively small municipality, La Roca del Vallès, received a call from the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, asking him to become Minister of Health. No one imagined that, just two months later, Illa, a philosopher by training with little knowledge of the health world at the time, as he himself admits, would be the main person in charge of managing the worst pandemic in Spain in the last century. The former minister has compiled his memories in the book 'The year of the pandemic', published by Peninsula and with a prologue by another of the protagonists of those days, the director of the Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies (CCAES), Fernando Simon.

The home confinement of March 14 was "a wise decision" in which many people intervened, but in the end it was taken between Illa and Sánchez, the Catalan politician reported this Wednesday during the presentation of the work. «With the president I established a relationship of frankness. We clearly saw that we had to take measures based on scientific and rational criteria and we could not delay a second longer in reducing mobility. It was a success because it helped us reduce the occupation of the ICUs, which was the most worrying thing at the time », he pointed out.

But the numbers of infections and deaths skyrocketed and Spain faced the harshest reality. On April 2, when 950 deaths from covid-19 were registered, it was one of the most difficult moments, Illa recalled. The other, "when we had to prohibit family members from attending the funerals of their deceased loved ones." The situation in nursing homes, where 23,000 people have died from the virus since March 2020, also tested the government's resistance. "But those obstacles were overcome," he said.

After the worst days came the de-escalation, which was a process that was done "correctly". “Above all, I was surprised by the civic behavior of the citizens. People were aware that we were in a very delicate situation and that things were not done just because, "thanked Illa, who isolated herself from partisan criticism during the health emergency. "I didn't read the press. We had the objective of saving lives and we did what had to be done. To ours».

The former Minister of Health claimed responsibility for the vaccination campaign, which opened the door to hope. "At the end of the summer of 2020 I saw that there would be a vaccine at Christmas of that year," he said. “But many people did not think that Spain could vaccinate so many millions of people. And it was done. And even our country is going to come out of the pandemic having created a vaccine against covid », he emphasized.

"Spain behaved very decently," he insisted. “In a very difficult moment, she acted rationally, doing what could be done. And what we experienced that year is a vindication of politics because the value of the institutions was recovered, "summarized the now leader of the opposition in Catalonia, who believes that Western societies have learned lessons from the pandemic:" We had a certain arrogance We thought this couldn't happen here, but it did. We have also become aware of a community vision, that we all have to collaborate. And that health has to be strong and that politics has to be useful », he said.

The members of the Government, of the current one, but also of March 2020 (even former minister José Luis Ábalos attended the act), wrapped Illa up yesterday. At the head, President Pedro Sánchez, who evoked the hardest days: "We almost had to start from scratch to face a colossal enemy of which we only knew its virulence," revealed Sánchez, who underlined the role of health professionals, “our first containment barrier”. In addition, the president stressed that Illa "has the necessary qualities to convince the population that it was necessary to take measures as harsh as confinement." "You are a good man and it was an honor to fight the pandemic by your side," he proclaimed.

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