Expat Diary: 70% of Spain’s Population is now in Phase 1

Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent

Update: Monday, May 18, 2020

As of Monday, May 18, 2020, a few more areas of Spain have moved forward in the de-escalation process while the major metropolitan areas remain under restrictive conditions. According to the Minister of Health Salvador Illa, 70% of Spain’s population is now in Phase 1, thus 30% remain in Phase 0.

Andalusia, the Community of Valencia, Catalonia (except for Barcelona) Castilla La Mancha, and most of Castilla y Leon will be allowed to move into Phase 1 of de-escalation. However, Madrid, Barcelona, and some of Castilla y Leon must remain in Phase 0. The Canary Islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa, and the Balearic Island of Formentera are advancing to Phase 2.

The areas still in Phase 0 will be allowed to relax some restrictions (sparking the popular designation Phase 0.5). Retail stores will be allowed to open without an appointment (but not shopping malls). Funerals of 10 people or less will be permitted. Museums and libraries can open at reduced capacity. Houses of worship can hold services at a third of capacity. However, other social gatherings are still prohibited.

Throughout Spain, masks are required on public transport and highly recommended in public places where two meters distance between people cannot be maintained. All people arriving in Spain from international destinations are required to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Director of the Coordination Center for Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simón says he is convinced that Madrid “will be able to change phases soon.”

Sunday, May 17, was the final nightly “applause” honoring the dedicated healthcare workers and first responders.

Monday, May 11, 202

Today Spain moves from Phase 0 to Phase 1 of coronavirus quarantine de-escalation with the notable exceptions of Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y Leon, Valencia, Andalucia and most of Catalonia, which will remain in Phase 0. In other words, 51% of the Spanish population will enjoy somewhat more relaxed conditions including being able to gather with friends and family in groups up to 10 people, to attend funerals of up to 15 people, and to reopen retail establishments.

Medical advisors made the determination based on the numbers of new cases in individual provinces. The provinces that remain in Phase 0 did not meet the parameters to ease restrictions, but progress in those areas will be evaluated again on May 18. The provinces in Phase 1 will be evaluated again in two weeks.

According to Health Minister Salvador Illa, Spain had a COVID-19 infection rate of 35% at the start of the state of alarm on March 14, and as of May 8, it is down to less than 0.5%

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Last night, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez presented a phased plan to de-escalate the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown. The plan has four phases which will be triggered by progress markers, not dates. Whether the markers have been met will be evaluated by medical and scientific professionals. If setbacks occur, phases will be extended or repeated. Each province will be evaluated separately, so different parts of the country may be in different phases at any given time. In theory, each phase would last two weeks, so best case scenario, if no setbacks are encountered, Spain could be back to pre-quarantine levels of social and economic activity by the end of June, in time for the summer tourist season.

Phase O—Preparation: We are in this phase now. Children have been allowed to exercise outdoors since April 26. Starting Saturday, May 2, adults may engage in individual sports activities (including going for a walk). People over 65 will be given a schedule of when they can go out to avoid contact with other people. Shops may begin to open if they can make appointments to see one customer at a time, including hairdressers if they use the maximum level of protection.

Phase 1—Initial Steps: Public transport can be used if masks are worn. Visits will be allowed with friends and family in the same province. More shops will open, but shopping centers and the bigger parks will remain closed. Hotels and tourist accommodations can open at a capacity of 30%, but common areas cannot be used. Restaurants will remain closed, but outdoor terraces can open at 30% capacity. Athletes can train on assigned schedules. Farming and fishing will resume. Religious facilities will reopen at limited capacity.

Phase 2—Intermediate: Bars and restaurants can reopen with table service only. Cinemas, museums, and theaters can operate at 30% capacity. Places of worship will be limited to 50% capacity. Cultural gatherings will be allowed for up to 50 people if indoors and 400 or less if outdoors, but they must be seated.

Phase 3—Advanced: In this final stage, commercial areas will be operating at 50% capacity. People will be advised to keep two meters (about six feet) distance from each other. Masks will still be recommended in public, particularly on transport.

Travel between provinces will not be permitted until Phase 3 is complete in all the provinces. Schools will reopen in September.

It’s good news. After spending 50 days in my apartment, I get to take a walk in the fresh air on Saturday!

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 a 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 a 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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