Expat Diary: What Is Life Like In Spain During Lockdown?

Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent

Here in Madrid, the sun just set on our ninth day of lockdown. I am fine. All the friends I am in touch with are fine. Initially, we were told we would be in lockdown for 15 days, but this morning the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, announced that lockdown would be extended an additional 15 days until April 11. Originally, just Madrid and a couple of other areas with a concentration of cases were on lockdown, but today, it was extended to the whole country.

Although I don’t know anyone who has contracted Covid-19, friends who have family in the medical profession tell me that hospitals are overwhelmed, and medical professionals are exhausted. The news says some hotels have been turned into hospitals, and the convention center is being outfitted with beds.

What Measures are Currently in Place in Spain?

Everything is closed except markets, pharmacies, and gas stations. We can only leave our homes to go to the market, the pharmacy, the doctor, to walk the dog, or take out the trash. If you are caught taking a walk, it’s a $648 fine. I can’t give a first-hand report of what is happening in the city because I haven’t left my apartment, except to walk to the market, for 10 days. When I do go to the market, I feel like I’m in a science fiction movie. The streets are deserted. The convivial bars are silent. Restaurants are dark, although some will send take out by the delivery services like Uber Eats and Glovo. It’s as if a bomb went off that destroyed human life but left the buildings standing.

Everyone who can is working from home. Those who can’t (like market and pharmacy workers) are allowed to go to and from work. Public transportation is running on reduced schedule, but you are only supposed to use it to get to work or the doctor. The U.S. Embassy sent an email today saying all American tourists should return to the U.S. immediately. As of tomorrow, all hotels and hostels will be closing, and all commercial flights will be halted sometime in the coming week.

Do You have Access to Shops to Buy Food and Supplies?

The markets are well-stocked, even with toilet paper (maybe because many of us have bidets). Food is important in Spain, and it is still plentiful. However, when you enter Aldi, a security guard sprays your hands with alcohol and insists you put on gloves. A sign explains that only one person from a family can shop, and children are not allowed in the store. Stickers on the floor mark the one-meter space we are to maintain between people as we wait in line for checkout.

How are You Spending Your Day?

The main things I am missing are fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. I’ve been doing yoga and Pilates every morning, and thankfully, my Zumba teacher has started offering classes online. My meditation group is going to meet via Zoom on Mondays. My days are full with writing, texting and video chatting with friends, preparing and eating meals, online Spanish lessons, and solo exercise sessions. I plan to watch movies on Netflix and read some good books, but I haven’t gotten to that yet.

Every evening at 8 p.m., we all go on our balconies or hang out our windows and applaud to show our gratitude for the valiant, dedicated Spanish healthcare workers. It’s an exhilarating moment of connection and community. We see our neighbors, if only from a distance, and acknowledge that we are in a big lifeboat together. Last night, the woman leaning out the window of the apartment next to mine, whom I don’t know because I just recently moved in, asked me simply, “Todo bien?”(“All good?”) I replied, “Si. Todo bien. Y para ti?” (“Yes. All good. And for you?”) She smiled, “Todo bien.” And we resumed our applause.

Is Spain Prepared for the Virus?

I don’t know that any country could ever be prepared for a pandemic so sudden and on such a large scale. Spain’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but the international transportation hubs like Madrid, Barcelona, and Malaga bring in thousands of visitors from around the world every day. The government was criticized for not locking down sooner, and for allowing a demonstration on March 8 for International Women’s Day, but I think the government and the healthcare system have been pretty nimble in their response and are certainly trying to stay ahead of the game by adding more beds as quickly as possible. I completely understand the hesitation to bring all commerce and employment to a total standstill considering the inevitable economic consequences. It’s easy to criticize after the fact. I think Spanish leadership will use this “teachable moment” to put more effective strategies in place before the next crisis.

Spaniards are social, physically affectionate people, and I love that (although it may be why we have so many more cases than other countries). When we are released from lockdown, I predict that there will be huge street party with lots of hugging and kissing. It will be Easter Sunday, and we will all rise again, filled with new life, hatched from a month inside our personal shells. Until then, God willing…“todo bien.”

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