Living under lockdown in Spain during COVID-19 has been hard. The strict national lockdown lasted for almost 7 weeks. For 47 days we were unable to leave our homes, unable to see our friends and family, and unable to exercise. Now, it is May 6th: Day 5 of being able to exercise outside and Day 3 of Phase 0, the first step in transitioning to ‘the new normal’.
Before I go into the specifics of Phase 0 and Spain’s plans going forward, I want to start with how we got here. Our transition into a national lockdown seemed sudden and abrupt. One weekend, I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday in the city center that was as busy as usual. The following Friday, on March 13rd, most bars and restaurants had voluntarily shut down in fear of COVID-19. By that Monday, we were in a state-mandated lockdown.
Like most countries (especially western countries) Spain was slow to react to the virus. While we did sympathize with what was happening in China, it was impossible to imagine it happening here. In Southern Spain, better known as the Costa del Sol, basking in sunshine and enjoying a glass of wine on a terrace was a way of life. It was nearly impossible to imagine that COVID-19 could take this away. However, the seriousness of COVID-19 was quickly intensified with the glooming situation in Italy and Trump’s sudden European travel ban.
On the night of March 11th, Trump made sudden travel restrictions from Europe. The ban was to set into affect that Friday and it prohibited people from flying in from the Schengen section of Europe for 30 days. Luckily, the ban didn’t affect U.S. citizens and their families. Nevertheless, the surprise was met with anger and confusion, especially from the European Union. As one EU diplomat said, ” [the pandemic] requires cooperation rather than unilateral action”. Seeing that Europe is considered an ally to the United States, the fact that Trump limited travel set a serious tone for COVID-19 situation.
Coincidentally, I planned to travel to Miami Thursday morning, the morning after Trump’s announcement. Waking up to the news, I made the last minute decision to not go on my flight. For the past 2 weeks I was sick and congested. While I felt fine that morning, I was still very much congested and I worried about being potentially quarantined for sounding sick. (Knowing what we know now about the coronavirus, I would say that it was highly unlikely that I had it. While I did have a fever at one point, I suffered from congestion and not respiratory problems. However, I did lose my sense of taste and smell for a little while. Was I sick or was I not? Perhaps one day, with antibody testing, we shall find out.)
At the same time, it quickly became apparent that Italy couldn’t contain the virus. Spain and Italy are similar in a lot of ways. We share a similar culture of living to enjoy live and Andalusia can be closely compared to Southern Italy. Italy went into national lockdown on March 11th and Italians were forced to stay inside. The coronavirus ravaged both their healthcare system and their way of life. Spanish people soon came to terms that their country and lifestyle were not immune against the virus.
The day after the European travel ban, the Andalusian government had an emergency meeting and announced that schools would shut down Monday. The University of Malaga, which was experiencing weeks of sanitation worker protests, shut down the next day. On Saturday, the Spanish Government announced that a national lockdown would be set in place. The lockdown, which was strictly and legally enforced, spanned 7 weeks.
What did being under lockdown in Spain during COVID-19 mean for us?
The Spanish Government made forceful decisions to combat COVID-19. During the lockdown, we were unable to go outside without reason. In my case, I was allowed to go out only for groceries or to get medicine from the pharmacy. The Spanish police were authorized to fine and even arrest people who did not have a valid reason for being outdoors. Fines could start at 600 euros and go up to 30,000 euros.
The lockdown was challenging. In a twisted turn of luck, Malaga, a city known for its year round sunshine, experienced on-and-off rain during the first month of quarantine. There is not much to do in Malaga when it rains, so it was easier to come to terms with the lockdown when there was bad weather. However, to be forced to sit inside was truly a mental test. As someone who enjoys taking walks and exercise for the good of mental health, I found these restrictions challenging. Luckily, I still have sessions with my therapist from BetterHelp, an online counseling service.
The children are freed.
On April 8th, the president announced that children would be allowed to go outside from the 26th of April. No one could argue that staying inside for so long has a positive impact on child development. That Saturday morning, children under the age of 14 filled the streets. To hear the sound of children that day, was an odd sense a relief. While in normal conditions it could be labeled as annoying to hear children yelling or laughing, it was now a comforting and familiar sound. Soon enough it was announced that if the number of COVID-19 cases continued to decrease, everyone else would be allowed outside to exercise too.
We get to exercise.
On May 2nd, we were finally allowed to go outside for some exercise. For 7 weeks, we were confined to our homes, unable to freely go out for some fresh air. In order to avoid crowds of people, the Spanish government made a timetable for when what age group could go out. This was also to protect the most vulnerable population, the elderly. From 6AM, people were out enjoying the fresh air. The city and its coast has once again become alive. I was super excited to go out and enjoy a walk along the beach, a walk I had done so many times before. However, taking extensive walks after 7 weeks of minimal movement, was a shock to my body. My legs have been sore in the most unusual places.
What is Phase 0?
Phase 0 is part of a four part plan to return Spain to a new normal. Each phase should last a minimum of two weeks, so the best case scenario is that Spain would be ‘normal’ again at the end of June. While each Spanish region started Phase 0 on Monday, they will succeed to the next phase depending on their COVID-19 statistics. This could mean that some regions finish the phases earlier than others. Sur, a Malaga newspaper, published interesting infographics to describe the changes in every Phase:
Given how difficult it is to predict the development of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of government action, it’s hard to say how quickly we will transition through these phases. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the Spanish response to the pandemic. For the most part, Spaniards listened to government and didn’t resist the lockdown (that was extended 3 times)! Living under lockdown in Spain during COVID-19 was by no means easy, but we did it for the public good. We were, and continue to be, resilient and strong through these difficult and uncertain times. Being able to smell the fresh sea air is a reminder that the worst is over. Now, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.