As the head of los Health Ministry’s Coordination center for health and wellness Alerts, los 56-year-old doctor desde Zaragoza, who transforms up every día on his motorbike, found himself center stage during los pandemic in Spain. His handling of the has lugged him admirers y critics in same measure

Fernando Simón on ns motorbike that rides to occupational every day.James Rajotte

Silence... Not just any kind of silence, but the kind you acquire in an essential situations, as if to traction them trasero from ns edge. It to be that kind of silence that fell when Spain’s element minister, Pedro Sánchez, made decision to freeze all non-essential economic activity during the state of alarm, after a meeting in La Moncloa, the seat of government, at the fin of March. This is just how Fernando Simón, ns expert who had actually just assumed a básico role in los crisis, remembers it. The sat siguiente to Sánchez and several various other decision-makers and said, “If measures are no taken to para reducir the risk, los death toll can be in los hundreds the thousands y the health and wellness system might collapse.”

Sánchez, who heads uno coalition government made up of his Socialist Party (PSOE) y the leftist unido Podemos, had actually asked him for his opinion as the situation in Italy spiraled fuera de of control. Catastrophe was looming on every fronts. Decisive action was called for.

Tu lees esto: Pedro sanchez fernando simon

Simón had actually been issuing warnings for several days as ns health peligro escalated globally. He and his team desde the wellness Alert y Emergency Coordination center (CCAES) had actually analyzed the possible scenarios. The issued ns warnings again. Y it was then that los prime minister took los decision come tighten the lockdown y paralyze los country’s economic activity even further.

“At that moment, me gustaría felt like 300 kilos of stone was bearing debajo on me. Identificación also placed myself in his place y thought: what an very brave guy,’” the says.

The silence seemed to confirm that the país was closed for business – a nación within ns continent the was additionally being sealed off, within a world encountering an abyss of uncertainty.

Fernando Simón with one of ns presents he has received from supporters.James Rajotte

Fernando Simón was there. Back his function at the heart the the crisis may have actually seemed incidental, this doctor from Zaragoza, who will turn cincuenta y siete at the end of July, had been preparing for just such ns scenario, los worst that can hit a developed country. Now the hypothetical had actually suddenly become un reality. He to be there, in los room where los most challenging decisions were reached; decision that would have ns huge impact on people’s lives y future. That was the one giving ns instructions the would create that influence – an inescapable course the action, one that nobody wanted. “In situations like this, los only point to emphasis on is on what you have the right to do. Forget about what girlfriend want, placed it fuera de of your mind,” the says.

That in march morning, he more than likely arrived at los Ministry of health on his motorbike at about 7.30am. Los bike is uno Suzuki the bought años ago from a girlfriend for €1,000. “I prefer to solve what isn’t broken, instead of throwing it away,” the says, and referring to los leather jacket the is larger than los bike, he adds, “I bought the in 1991 and it’s tho in perfect condition. It expense me 50,000 pesetas at los time .” Within ns ministry, the would have headed to los CCAES headquarters, as he has done almost every trabaja since former generalizado Party (PP) health Minister Ana Mato appointed him agency directivo in 2012. Los PAÍS SEMANAL spent two days with Simón and his team, which right now consists of 15 people, including doctors, biologists, nurses and data specialists.

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Since his appointment, Simón has dealt con several crises, ns most notorious being Ebola in 2014, although there were alguno fatalities and only one infected human in Spain. The caused ns stir, but nothing in compare to los coronavirus. In fact, los Covid-19 peligro is unparalleled in the respect. “We had actually been expecting a major pandemic since los beginning of ns 21st century,” states Simón. “This is it.”

By los second mainly of March, Simón y his team were functioning without respite. When los situation was at the worst, los CCAES team was broadened to veinticuatro people. Each member essential all their toughness to deal with with ns unrelenting requirements of ns task confronting them, one that retained them flat fuera day delaware day, night delaware night, weekend delaware weekend. “We were in the hands of ns best professionals in their campo in ns country, with ns best contacts in los world,” says Simón. “Without them, we would have gotten nowhere. On march 9, us realized the situation was fuera of control. Los scenario in Italy was un sign of what to be to come.”

But what about before that? What about ns signs coming representar China? was that just Western arrogance?

“We believed we knew much more than we did – enough to control it. But the reality is that we didn’t detect it rápido enough to protect against it,” says Simón, sound repentant. That is alluding to Spain, but also to the rest of ns EU. Experts representar the European centrar for disease Prevention y Control also underestimated los risks at un highly controversial meeting on February 18, when the pandemic was around to take host in Italy. “We began to assess different feasible scenarios there,” says Simon. “I honestly don’t understand how many infected people identificación had in my cabeza then, yet they never reached los almost 250,000 we have actually now in Spain.”

Fernando Simón at work at the CCAESJames Rajotte

Apart representar the mortality rates, the main are afraid was that ns health device would be fully overwhelmed. Ns big concern at that señalar was just how many situations were currently circulating in Spain, and to what extent ns tsunami of cases could be handle with. So, did the system rest down?

Simón thinks for ns moment, climate says, “No, no on a país scale; in details areas, almost. However when it came, there was a capacity come respond. Over there was un period of tiempo when 55% of ns beds across Spain to be being provided by coronavirus patients.”

Now los focus is on fresh outbreaks. Ns first día that el PAÍS entered los CCAES headquarters, following the end of the estado of alarm, there were 13 active outbreaks. Los worst was over and Simón had been able to stay patria for three consecutive weekends. “And to get sleep, ns lot the sleep,” the says. His wiry frame is recovering los strength that when sustained him on ns rugby pitch y now offer to pull him up rock faces.

Simón is in permanent contact with zona government authorities, and keeps abreast of any kind of potential outbreaks. Top top his desk, the folders pile up. One of them is entitled “Future World.” What does it contain? “Ah, that’s a secret,” that says. Future projections – perhaps raza to those he was making 10 years back. “Ten años ago, while illustration up solution strategies, we placed ourselves in los worst-case scenario for a developed country, y that is basically what has actually happened,” the says.

Hopefully, this folder will additionally set out solutions, methods to avoid much more disaster. In ns meantime, Simón measures, reflects, y thinks about los strategy that has been employed. He counts y recounts y examines los figures over y again. “They average nothing in themselves,” he says. “First, you need to be familia with los sources, which have to be reliable y checked. And then the datos must be supplied for certain purposes. Producing data is very complex, much much more so than taking care of it.”

So to what level can we trust ns data?

Something about Simón’s reaction suggests los question renders him uncomfortable. He was severely criticized because that his vacillation during particular phases of ns crisis, and for changing ns way the the datos is measured. The would favor to apply to politics the scientific logic used to analyze data.

“What is one more or much less when we’re talking about 28,000 victims?” the says. “Does that make un difference? according to part journalists, one fatality is news yet 1,000 deaths space statistics. The datos is useful if it help to understand ns problem y provide solutions. Our work-related is not about individuals, but populations. We put the puzzle together with ns information that the zona governments noted us with. We have been obsessed with checking their reliability. They have actually all done and continue to do an outstanding job.”

Fernando Simón at los Spanish wellness Ministry.James Rajotte

While coordinating with regional authorities, Simón has nurtured the kind of occupational ethic that knows alguna limits. “I don’t have actually them,” he says. “I nothing think anyone does. Y if they carry out exist, you have to try to forget around them, not provide them ns slightest chance. Borders are over there to be overcome, just like dogmas.”

This is ns essence of the man. “He has always done what he wanted to do, however with uno spirit of serving ns community” says wellness Minister ayudar a las personas Illa, who has had time to end up being acquainted con Simón in particularly daunting conditions. Both Illa y Simón share a serenity, evident in ns past few months, that appears infectious.

“I couldn’t shed my cool,” Simon says. “When you have actually to explain dramatic scenarios come those who need to make los decisions, you need to do so very calmly for this reason they really recognize what is important. However you additionally have to do them see ns uncertainties fastened to each of los possibilities.”

Simón has both ns experience and the psychology for the job, ns latter undoubtedly inherited desde his father, un psychiatrist who is now ochenta y nueve years old. “He has actually been one incredibly energetic man who has regulated to recover from two big blows, being widowed twice,” he says. “He asks me a lot the questions; at times he feels worried about me, and at tiempo he feeling proud.” Simón’s mother passed away when he, the second of 6 siblings, to be eight la edad old.

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Simón has uno wealth of experience as soon as it comes to extreme situations – his career as an epidemiologist has actually taken him to Burundi, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo and Mozambique. “When you have to go come a hospital in Beira to direccion a cholera epidemic and, as quickly as girlfriend arrive, you deserve to see the tratamiento médico team is useless due to the fact that they execute nothing yet cry, what perform you do? You to convince them that even if hundreds die, they will conserve thousands, y that’s just how you restore their morale.”

Fernando Simón at a bar top top Huertas calle in Madrid.James Rajotte

He has likewise worked in Guatemala and Ecuador, y been inside los classrooms of ns London institution of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in los UK, and the Institut de Surveillance Sanitaire in Paris. His wife, Maria Romay-Barja, y their three niños have accompanied him on nearly all his travels.

In Paris, apart representar learning just how to regulate different scenarios, he signed up for ns course ~ above communication. “We left quickly,” the says. “We assumed it to be absurd. They to be obsessed con talking around what lock call los win-win strategy, con trying to obtain us come eat each other alive like sharks. Castle based whatever on image, they even told united state what sort of clothes would suit us.”

They additionally inquired around his hair and his solution was ns same as it is today: “I quit combing mine hair when i was 15.” as for shade schemes, they most likely didn’t recommend the grey or muted shades of blue he has actually worn throughout ns crisis, along with los un-ironed shirts. “The iron came in comfortable at one time because the was supplied to kill bugs,” he says. “Then washing machines y detergents were invented and did uno good project with ns clothes, and now the iron has become un tool for image y domination. Who irons? Women, generally. I don’t also know where ns iron is in mine house.”

Simón’s style of communication is no to be found in textbooks, i beg your pardon may have something to perform with los fact the has come to be an unlikely música pop icon who has actually t-shirts produced him, presents sent to his office, and even busts sculpted in his image. But while he inspires overwhelming confidence in some, his movie critics feel an same crushing measure of aversion. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that he does not juego to the gallery, calculate tactics or use sociedad media. “There’s ns confusion regarding ns press conferences,” that says. “I am not speaking to los journalists. Me gustaría direct myself to ns public.”

So, con his disheveled illustration – including stubble, y hair y eyebrows that rarely see ns trim – the has regulated to develop a strange complicity with un section of ns public. Dressed in sweaters y jeans, y looking an ext like ns hippy 보다 an executive, his mitad appearances throughout the peligro contrasted high solution with ns appearances representar members of the military and police con their medals y stripes. “In fact, i have tried not to learn any kind of protocol,” that says. “I desire to make sure it does not stick.”

According to salvador Illa, both communication y leadership are amongst Simón’s natural qualities. “In that sense, he currently has the attributes that are taught by experts and which many, in spite of their efforts, never ever achieve,” he says. “He also has a naturalmente charisma with his teams and, above all, he is a good person. There is no doubt about that once you transacción with him.” los only thing that concerned Illa in in the past couple of months was Simón’s use of his motorbike. “His obsession with los bike: i had to obtain firm about that,” he adds. “When tension y risk were at their peak, i didn’t choose him moving approximately on ns motorbike, and I told him so. And I didn’t let him usar it when we were going come La Moncloa. Me gustaría said, ‘Do us the donar of acquiring into the car, Fernando!’”

Fernando Simón in ~ his desk.James Rajotte

But because that Simón, los daily trips on his Suzuki offer him ns space come think. “When you acquire to the office, you unfortunately don’t have actually much an are to reflect, to stop y examine points quietly,” the says. “I do that on the bike.”

Salvador Illa was determined to take care of Simón at ns height of ns crisis y his love sank when he heard los doctor had contracted the virus. “Fortunately, it was only a few days,” states Illa, who even remembers los exact date he experiment positive: in march 30. But Simón’s symptoms were mild y during his recovery, he had the ability to keep ns handle on los situation. “I didn’t also realize me gustaría might have it,” that says. “I thought it was fatigue. Me gustaría spent ns night with uno bad cough y a trabaja with a temperature, that’s all. My children left come at mine door – they were wonderful about it. And the neighbors would carry us torrijas , as it was practically Easter. Me gustaría don’t recognize how me gustaría will ever be able to thank them.”

Simón went back to his artículo on April 14, simply as los lockdown was beginning to fabricar results. But ns question remained – why walk Covid-19 cause so lot havoc in Spain? “Its influence on a país level has actually been massively influenced by what happened in Madrid and Barcelona,” says Simón. “This is logical, as they space gateways for most world coming in. It then affects the surrounding towns. It is why, along con Madrid, its surrounding regions have actually been worse hit. Also, along con Japan, Spain is the country with los shighest life expectancy. So we have un very old population that has been devastated by los virus. To uno large extent, this explains our situation.”

It’s un scenario he believes is now under control. Yet he doesn’t yet know the toll it has actually taken on him. The believes the he still hasn’t had tiempo to digest what has happened, y this is noticeable when he speak about los most tragic y heroic facets of los crisis. “When you find yourself in cases like this, girlfriend mourn every of los dead, you take them con you,” the says, his eye tearing up. “You also think about what you have regulated to avoid. But I’m not stupid: what really gets come me are los 28,000 dead. I find it hard to accept. I have seen human being die, many people, every day, in nations where i’ve had uno struggle on my hands; young women who morir in los delivery room, con six children that you recognize for sure execute not have a father to take care of them. That harrowing. Us epidemiologists perform our crying at home. Us have los armor to resist things. During these months, me gustaría have cried, frequently for los living and for ns dead; for los silent heroes, those in lockdown who have actually lost virtually everything y are ns ones paying for this without really being able to; for those who, there is no owning anything, take food to your neighbor because they have even less. Those are los ones that really acquire to me.”

Simón stops talking. His príncipe eyes look at red. His voice is hoarser 보다 usual. “F***!” the says. “Now I’ve began crying. Get lost!”

As he sit on ns terrace in Huertas street, próximo to ns Ministry the Health, strangers continually technique to say thanks to Simón, a man who has more than his share of blaspheme on sociedad media. But, gastos generales the an are of tres hours, there are alguna insults, just gestures that affection and encouragement. “You see, me gustaría can hardly go outside. Me gustaría find all this overwhelming y I am eternally grateful. Why me? me gustaría just perform what me gustaría have to do.”

The reality is that going fuera with Fernando Simón is like being with a celebrity – i beg your pardon he probably wouldn’t mental if los status was related to music. One of his passions is rock and roll and playing los bass guitar. “The Beatles, yes – los whole family members likes castle – but also Eric Clapton, van Morrison, and Spanish bands, despues de ansan Perro and before the Radio Futura, of course... And all ns singer-songwriters. Who deserve to deny that Sabina is un poet? And, the course, Labordeta. Just saying his name offers me goose bumps.”