30 April 2020
El Virus Corona
A View from Spain
by Santiago Aldea del Fresno
Like most other countries, at the beginning of the year Spain was aware of a viral infection in China but we were not too worried because China is a long way away, the virus had been reported in December 2019 and there were no cases in Spain. Things changed at the end of January when the first Spanish case was confirmed and the virus began to spread quickly. It has hit hardest where I live in the Comunidad de Madrid where, since the outbreak was first officially recognised, around 8,000 people have died. The corona virus pattern is similar to that in other countries with the majority of deaths being those of advanced years and also those with a prejudicial medical history.
Spain reacted early and put the entire country on lockdown on March 14. The lockdown was strict to start with. People could go to work if they had written permission from their employer and you were allowed to go food shopping, go to the pharmacy, go to a hospital and buy fuel. Nothing else was allowed. Everything else, schools included, was shut and remains shut at the time of writing. Roadblocks were put in place and fines were established starting from 600 Euros going up to 600,000 Euros, with the possibility of going to jail. About two weeks later, the restrictions went even further and only allowed essential workers to go to work. This has now been lifted.
I have been stopped twice. The first time was on March 15. I went for a short walk for some exercise in the gated community where I live. An unmarked police car stopped me and said that if I did not go home immediately, they would fine me. I went home. The second time was today on the way back from shopping. There was a Guardia Civil roadblock and they stopped every car in turn. I had to show my driving license, passport, the bags with the shopping and the receipt from the supermarket.
Despite all of this, I have it easy. My house has a garden which my family and I can walk around. The people living in flats do not have it so lucky and it is even worse for families with children because during lockdown, the children are not allowed out at all. They have been inside their flats for six weeks.
Today (April 26) marks the first time in six weeks that children have been allowed out of their homes. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for a child to be cooped up in a 40 to 80 square metre flat for six weeks (many flats without a balcony) and the anguish this mustr have caused their parents. The children must have been climbing the walls and the parents going mad out of desperation and exasperation.
Until today, Spain has unofficially been under martial law. The only thing missing is a visible military presence, but this is made up by the ever-present Guardia Civil and National Police (Policia Nacional). There is talk that either next weekend or the weekend after, adults will be allowed out of their homes for limited exercise periods. I hope this is true as I have certainly put on a few pounds.
My family and I have been holed up at home for the best part of six weeks. The highlight of the week is going to the supermarket and doing a few laps around the shelves. I do not buy much, but I enjoy the walk. I now park a long way from the entrance so that I get even more walking in. Sad – you bet. Entering the supermarket is fun. You may or may not have to join a queue to get in, you then have to disinfect your trolley, disinfect your hands and finally put on thin plastic gloves. Face masks are optional, but you get black looks if you don’t wear one. Once you are in, you have to find the sections that are open and that is when you plan your hike for the day. One good thing about Spain is that there is always a good selection of wine and fresh bread.
Life at home for me is not much different to a non-crisis day because I have had a work from home job since February. The main difference is that after work, you have to stay in. That being said, upon the suggestion of an American friend, I binge watched “Ozark” on Netflix. It was worth it.
To close, the Spanish government approach to dealing with the crisis has been criticised as being chaotic but at least the government took action early. Chaos and improvisation is part of the Spanish psyche so that is nothing new. Reacting quickly, now that is something new.
Aside from this, Spain appears to be as on the mend as it can be.
I wish everyone out there all the best. Keep safe and sound.