Aware that many of our readers are not in Spain, the following is a description of life here in the first week of the government decree that locked down the country, limiting the movement of citizens across the entire territory.
In early March something vague was going on in China and Italy, there is always something going on somewhere so we lost no sleep, then on 14th March the Spanish Government announced that with exceptions, we all have to stay at home.
We are now ending our fourth week of isolation and awaiting what is to come, or not. Across Spain and here on the Costa Del Sol the scene is the same, deserted streets, with few pedestrians and occasional cars, or motorbikes breaking the eerie silence. People transit to the supermarket or pharmacy alone and the police can ask where you are going and fine you if you are not engaged in any of the following; purchasing foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and essential items, emptying the rubbish, going from home to health centres, or work, caring for seniors, minors, dependants, disabled, or vulnerable, if your house is on fire or other reasons that are ‘by nature, justified’ including walking the dog. Streets where you would see thousands of people and hundreds of cars are still.
The Spanish are a law abiding people and it is clear that through a combination of medical fear and legal sanction they are willingly cooperating and the Police are quick to warn anyone who is not. In the first few days panic buying took over the supermarkets and some products left the shelves quickly, but there has been no interruption of the food supply chain and they were restocked quickly.
Most non-essential workplaces are closed with exclusions of those working in health, food and other essential work. Factories are closed and production is at a standstill. Spain’s 5,000 hotels have been ordered to send their guests home and close. At any other time in history, this could have been close to ‘hell at home’, but Spain’s roll out of fast fibre internet has made the home a productive and entertaining place. A generation raised on online gaming has more screen time, internet usage is at an all time high and voice communications are easier and cheaper than ever before through low tariffs, Skype and Whatsapp. The online meeting and the phone call through your computer is becoming the way that many modern businesses are run.
Home working has crept into the workplace for over 20 years, so when told to work at home there will be many who already did, and more who are happy to avoid the daily commute and chaos of the workplace. For the middle class professional able to work from home without ‘congestion’ this may even be a novel distraction in a routine career. In the evolution of the workplace, this is a significant time. Like My Lawyer in Spain, every company that can work on line is and learning even faster, that in many jobs, more can be achieved online than offline, but obviously this is no good for your plumber and for now the majority of paid work, where you have to ‘turn up’.
Spain has Europe’s highest portion of people living in apartments at 66% and a high portion of 20 or 30 years olds living with parents. Overcrowding is almost normal and people spend their waking hours working and socialising. Overcrowding could exacerbate issues of mental health, domestic violence, poverty and untended illness making this a worse time for the most vulnerable. Spain’s legendary family unity is strained when family elders cannot be visited lest they be infected, and the famous Spanish ‘two kisses’ has abruptly ended. Happier forecasters are already speaking of a rise in Spain’s declining birthrate and more obviously less road accidents, pollution, drunkenness and crime.
In short, we are all struggling with the enormity of what has happened, what may happen and still have questions about how we got here that will doubtless be answered in time.
Going forward, we can only plan for the best and prepare for the worst. The Spanish lockdown was due to last for 15 days but has now been extended until 26 April. The social, economic, health and political effects of these events will be untangled at a safer historical distance, for now, we can only hope that good will somehow come of it. Our thoughts are with our friends and families who are suffering from the Covid 19 symptoms or who have lost loved ones in this difficult period.