Fresh from arrival at Spain’s El Prat Airport, the bald, middle-aged man strode across the terrace of a popular Barcelona restaurant, giving bear hugs and dramatically kissing old friends as well as new acquaintances. “He was touching everybody and spit-talking,” said Carmen Oko, a teacher, “and he kept coughing in everyone’s faces.” When Oko yelled across the terrace demanding that the visitor cover his mouth when he coughed, he told her to stop being paranoid, everyone would eventually get COVID-19 anyway.
When another witness to the spectacle asked why he was blatantly defying public health recommendations, he said that Spain, where face masks are mandated (except for in restaurants, now believed to be a major source of spread), has it all wrong. The correct approach, he said, was that of his home country of Sweden, where the government has taken a laissez-faire attitude, strongly discouraging mask use, emphasizing personal responsibility and giving at least the appearance of encouraging herd immunity by allowing some to get sick until a base immunity is established. It is a concept gaining favor in the Trump administration, whose policies increasingly reflect the minority views of the president’s coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no expertise in epidemiology or public health.