Damien Enright: Coping with confinement by coronavirus in the Canaries

Damien Enright: Coping with confinement by coronavirus in the Canaries
The main beach at Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, happily not overdeveloped but, sadly, closed to the public in the coronavirus lockdown. The warm sea rolls onto deserted, black sand beaches. Picture: Damien Enright

I am writing this column on March 25. Dates are suddenly vital. Measures to lower the death toll from Covid-19 improve daily. For some of us, their early implementation makes the difference between life and death.

When my phone rings from Ireland, the UK or anywhere beyond the shores of this isolated island of La Gomera, in the Canaries, the first question is, invariably: “What’s it like there?”

People are worried for us; we are more worried for them. 

There were two cases here in February, one in March, all now recovered. Another case could be reported at any time but, here, precautions become more stringent day by day.

Person-to-person contact — measures taken far too late in Spain — and were not yet in place in Ireland, the UK or the USA. It would seem glaringly obvious that lockdown is the only safe recourse. 

Here, those local and foreign residents with whom I communicate by phone or text agree that this island, blest by its isolation, is twice blest by strict regulations on movement and public compliance with them.

It was already March 13 when Spain declared a state of ‘alarma’ and passed emergency laws to run for 15 days. This has since been extended to April 13.

All beaches, hiking trails, parks, restaurants, bars and shops, other than food shops, are closed to the public.

To leave one’s home except to visit to a food store, pharmacy or doctor, is forbidden.

Without an essential reason for being outdoors, everyone must stay at home at all times. It is forbidden for two persons to walk together, or to be together in a car. 

That this applies to married couples, or two persons sharing a home and a bed, is the only regulation I’ve heard questioned.

Initially, public notices of the rules weren’t posted publicly and when my wife and I set off walking on a rough track to the upper valley, we were surprised to find Guardia Civil driving after us in a four wheel drive. 

They were courteous, but, as always, adamant in their dictates.

May I ask where are you going, caballero? To water my son’s vegetables. You cannot walk together. One of you can water them alone, the other must go home. 

We’re also going to look at an up-valley house for rent so as to be nearer my son. One of you can go alone. The other must go home. They can see the house later.

Yesterday evening, when my wife walked to an organic fruit and veg outlet 10 minutes from here, she was stopped and told she could only go to the shops nearest to where we live, ie, those less than 150m away.

I hear that west Cork is especially lovely this springtime. 

A friend says he is fishing the Argideen River every morning and has had inspiring results. 

Another tells me that he and his wife spend all day in their extensive gardens and that when they bought their house decades ago they’d joked about how well they could support themselves in a time of war.

If my wife and I could be lifted by helicopter from the roof of our apartment and dropped in our yard in west Cork, we’d swarm up that swinging rope ladder without hesitation. 

But no helicopter hovers and the only way to get home would be to risk the gamut of the ferry, then the airports, escalator handrails, crowded lifts, packed aircraft and crammed buses taking us to and from the plane. 

Were we in less vulnerable age groups, we might have risked it.

We aren’t bored. It’s confining but I’d rather catch the sun on the roof and listen to the sea from the balcony, and be safe, than to be riding a bus in Dublin or a tube train in London.

For my children and grandchildren in the UK, it must be terrifying because Johnson’s performance has been so terrifying. 

His brain, like his hairstyle, is all over the place, blowing with the latest wind, today this way, tomorrow that.

The chances of taking a walk for the good of our health are nil. 

One is allowed to walk a dog; perhaps we could rent one. 

My son and his wife are planning to buy a few hens; the law will allow us, strictly one at a time, to walk our leftovers up the valley to feed them.

 Looking out at the warm, sun lit sea is tantalising but our confinement isn’t boring. 

Even if it were, we will be happy if, at the end of this ‘alarma’, we arrive home in summer and in good health, and bringing nothing harmful with us.

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