Whether it is a case of there being genuinely nothing stirring or simply a reflection that journalists take the weekend off just like everyone else, there have been no new developments in the Spanish ebola incident since Friday. Beyond a steady trickle into hospital (for observation) of people with whom Teresa Romero Ramos, the infected patient, may have had contact and reports of the nurse’s aid making a slight recovery, there is little ebola-related news. Saturday morning was the first since this whirlwind blew into town that the front page of El País led with a non-ebola-related story, which saw the newspaper opting for an all-too-common exemplar from the political corruption genre.
Part of me — the news junkie, the ebola junkie — is crying out for news. I’m strung out, scratching my skin with the boredom of this weekend steady state. The rest of me — the father that lives around the corner from the isolation wards and outside broadcasts units is glad that things seem to be settling down.
There are now something like twenty people under observation in the Carlos III Hospital and another sixty who have been advised to stay at home and take their temperatures twice a day. Each of these is in a state similar to Schrödinger’s cat until the twenty-one day incubation period for ebola ticks down. Since mid-week, the authorities have been a lot less cavalier in their approach to the virus (perhaps a couple of hundred outraged op-ed pieces can affect change after all): nobody from the medical teams who attended to either of the repatriated ebola-infected missionaries is having their fever poo-poohed in the manner Ms Romero Ramos’s was. In fact, the “red light” temperature has been reduced from 38.6 to 37.7 degrees C.
When we look back at this crisis one of the major flaws we point to will be those in authority’s inability to accept the merest possibility of failure or lapse of the protocols they put in place for the treatment of the missionaries and the subsequent precautionary tracking of the medical staff who attended them. The risk posed by the missionaries (whose treatment back in their home country did not save them, unfortunately) to the health care staff in direct contact with them was classified as “nil”. Ms Romero Ramos’s calls to a helpline for members of the ebola team (a helpline which was only open from Monday to Friday, 08:00 to 15:00) were dismissed. Frontline medical staff dealing with her when she presented with fever and other symptoms did so wearing ordinary masks, aprons and gloves. Primary contacts of Ms Romero Ramos, especially in the days before she was taken into quarantine, were left to their own devices for a number of days.
The week ahead will be a drawn-out waiting game, with the media camped outside the Carlos III Hospital on a hair trigger, poised to pounce on the tiniest titbit of information. The best-case scenario is the recovery of Ms Romero Ramos (and things look ever brighter on this front; a new experimental treatment is being reported as having a positive effect) and the lack of appearance of further infections among her co-workers and social contacts. Should Ms Romero Ramos disimprove or additional ebola cases crop up, an escalation of all that we have seen in the last week is inevitable — a clamour of political recriminations, a hyperdriven media, Spain’s entry into the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons, ugly scenes outside patients’ and doctors houses and widespread panic. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.