About a week ago, we in Spain were looking at Italy with wonderment as everything shut down there. We thought we were taking sufficient measures by washing our hands and keeping a distance from the next person in the queue. That all seems a long time ago now.
Tuesday’s announcement of schools closing had many WhatsApp groups complaining about an over-reaction. La Liga football games being postponed on Thursday felt quite like a bonus long-weekend. Driving to the supermarket to stock up on essentials you passed people out enjoying a walk in the sunshine, or heading to the DIY centre with plans perhaps to plant some flowers or paint the spare room.
The shutting of bars and restaurants on Friday brought recognition that the outside fun was over for the foreseeable future. Even kids’ playgrounds and public parks were now officially closed, along with all public locations where human contact was likely. As the first effects of household- confinement kicked in, the WhatsApp humour got darker, and the group with parents who kept sharing very dubious medical ‘advice’ was muted.
With over 1,000 new positives announced now each day in Madrid, most people know at least someone showing clear symptoms.
Whether coincidence or not, the government really got serious about shutting stuff down when politicians started going into self-isolation — including the wife of Spanish president Pedro Sanchez.
The idea that COVID 19 resembles a dose of the flu seems way off the mark— as is the notion that only very elderly or already vulnerable people are at risk. Friends and colleagues are suffering from high fevers, serious sore-throats, and difficulty in breathing. One fellow football writer has been confined to his bedroom for the last three days — with his family passing him food through the door.
The jokes in that WhatsApp group have stopped completely.
From Monday, only hospitals, doctors surgeries, pharmacies, supermarkets, banks, petrol stations, newsagents/tobacconists, launderettes and [bizarrely] hairdressers are allowed open. There is a constant queue of smokers outside our local newsagents, with only one customer allowed in at a time. Supermarket security are enforcing a ‘one in, one out’ policy at the door, so the line there winds all around the building. The shelves inside were pretty full yesterday morning — our stock of chocolate biscuits and coffee ran out before the toilet roll.
Most offices are now shut, with a limited public transport service for those who have to go out to work. Travelling to look after family or friends who need help is also allowed — but that opens the question of whether it is fair to ask the grandparents to look after the kids while you get some work done.
Taking out the rubbish and walking the dog are both okay. Nobody has yet (been) arrested for breaking curfew, but anybody just hanging around is ordered to go home by police cruising the streets for exactly that reason.
We are relatively fortunate in having a garden where the kids can at least run around a bit outside, but most people in Madrid live in apartment buildings, with all communal areas shut.
In theory, most parents and all children are now teleworking. Teachers are supposed to send out lesson plans by email, and make themselves available during class hours so students can continue preparing for exams.
Speaking via Skype on Sky Sports News a couple of times in recent days has brought home the difference between current views in Spain and the UK and Ireland. The hosts wanted to know whether La Liga would restart before too long, and if Valencia midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia would be a good signing for Tottenham. Concerns in Spain are more around how many clubs will go bankrupt without TV revenues or gate receipts.
Seeing people in Ireland out in bars and restaurants on Saturday was also like looking at a distant past. Everything is shuttered now in Madrid city centre, while vehicles patrol the streets with loudspeakers telling people to get back home unless they have an ‘exceptional’ reason to be out.
At 10pm each night the silence is broken by long and loud applause from balconies throughout the city — as people show their appreciation of the selfless work being done by doctors, nurses and other staff at hospitals and medical centres.
Sergio Ramos may not be the obvious person to turn to for advice in a medical emergency, but the Madrid captain said yesterday we all needed to ‘flatten the curve’ “We’re all one team, and we all have our role to play,” Ramos tweeted. “It’s very easy, stay at home. The responsibility of all, is the responsibility of each of us.”
Keep safe everyone.