Stay home: life in Spain during the covid-19 outbreak

It has been over a week since I last left the house. On Saturday 14th of March 2020, the Spanish government declared a ‘state of emergency’ and since then everyone has had to stay home.

You may think this is terrible, extreme or unnecesary. Let me tell you it is not. This is why.

News of the coronavirus covid-19 has by now reached us all. On the 11th of March the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic.

This is a personal account of how we’ve experienced covid-19 in Spain over the last few weeks. While I share some of the facts of the impact it is having in this country, I also want to focus on the solidarity being shown at this difficult time. So lets start at the beginning.

A timeline of covid-19 in Spain

It was surprising how quickly events unfolded. In under a week we went from hearing about covid-19 on the news and its consequences in far away places, to going into full lockdown.

Even though the government enforced staying home from March 14th, it became obvious in the run up to the ruling that we were heading the same way as Italy.

I spent the weekend (6-8th March) at my parents house, two and a half hours from Seville. My brother had come down from Madrid for the weekend, too. Had we known then what we know now, he would have stayed instead of returning to Madrid for uni on Sunday.

Yet at that point, life was still more or less normal. There was talk about the virus, perhaps a little paranoia in the air, but mostly life went on as ever. In fact, the bullfighting event that takes place in our town every year and kicks of the season still took with a large attendance and plenty of gatherings in the streets.

However, things escalated rapidly. By Tuesday classes had been cancelled in Madrid and talk at the office here in Seville was of nothing but the rising number of cases. My boss started planning what needed to happen to allow us to work from home, if such a time came.

People were told to stay away from large gatherings and events were being cancelled left, right and centre. We wondered what would happen about Holy Week or the April fair? Would it come to as much as cancelling them?

By Thursday they announced school closures in Seville, too, although they wouldn’t be effective until Monday. On Thursday, we also left the office with our belongings and were told to work remotely from Friday. I stayed in on Thursday afternoon as warnings to avoid crowded places increased.

On Friday I worked from home then left the house briefly to do a food shop with one of my flatmates. The supermarket was busy and people were nervous. Some items were running low on stock but we managed to buy most things we wanted with no trouble. We cancelled any plans for Friday evening and stayed in, watching the news carefully. The rumours of a full lockdown seemed ever more likely.

On Saturday morning we kept busy around the house. Sad news of local shops having to close down due to goverment recommendations reached us. Large stores were shut elsewhere in town. As a lockdown seemed probable now, we braced ourselves for the announcement of a preventative quarantine.

On Saturday evening it was made official: the president announced the measures coming into law. The message was clear: Stay Home. For at least the next 15 days we would have to stay inside. Exceptions were made for some jobs, food shopping or going to the pharmacy.

By now it was obvious, we had to stay indoors and life as we know it was put on hold. Holy Week celebrations were cancelled, the April fair probably postponed to September. The economic impact is scary. Yet all of this is necessary.

Don’t think of social distancing as inconvenient for you but as a benefit for us all

At the time of writing, there are over 28,000 cases of covid-19 in Spain, a high percentage of which are located in the capital, Madrid. The death toll has risen to over 1,700. Hospitals are being pushed to the limits and doctors, nurses, and other medical staff are working night and day to care for hundreds of patients in less than ideal conditions, as there is a shortage of protective gear.

Number of covid-19 cases by region in Spain. Source: Instituto de Salud Carlos III

On a more possitive note, over 2,500 people have recovered from the virus. With the right care, this is perfectly possible. The problem is we need to have the means to offer that care to all who need it.

That is why we have been asked to stay home and why you should too. It’s not about whether or not I will get the virus, it’s about protecting the most vulnerable among us. The elderly, people with prior illnesses or those on immunosuppressants.

As you probably know by now, you can be a carrier of the virus without showing any symptoms. So you could be spreading it without being aware that you are doing so.

This is not about you and me, and whether or not we fancy staying inside all day, it’s about protecting our health workers from burnout and ensuring that those who need care can get it.

It’s not a time to panic, it’s a time to care for each other more than ever. As Sally Killoran posted in a piece in The Guardian, “In times of panic, please don’t forget to be kind.”

Step 1: Flatten the curve

Spain has an excellent health system but the sheer volume of cases would prove to be too much for any health system in the world. That is why it is so important to flatten the curve.

Yo may have heard of this concept of flattening the curve, but what does it mean? This graphic explains it clearly:

CC graphic by Esther Kim & Carl T. Bergstrom

As you can see, the idea is to reduce the number of cases and ensure that the number of people infected is spread out over a longer period of time. This avoids saturating the helathcare system and reduces the numbers of casualties from the virus and lack of adequate medical assistance.

If we flatten the curve we can reduce the number of cases at any one time and help the medical professionals to cope far better and help more people.

It is a simple enough concept and the reason drastic measures have been put in place by the Spanish, Italian and Chineese governments. This is why we have been asked to stay home and this is why you should too.

Step 2: Stay positive

With all this negative news about the virus it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I share the numbers because I believe some people still aren’t taking this seriously enough. A few weeks back we wondered if things were really as bad as they were telling us. The truth is, they are. But we are also seeing a huge wave of solidarity among the Spanish population. As in Italy, there are numerous innitiatives going around to help and support one another in this difficult time. I shared some of these on Instagram already but I will give a few examples below:

  • Spain has been facing this outbreak with humour and solidarity.
  • The internet is flooded with quarantine memes which keep us laughing.
  • We’ve all been meeting on our balconies at 8pm to applaud the health professionals who are on the frontline in fighting this virus.
  • Musicians have given free concerts via Instagram live.
  • Personal trainers are offering free online workouts to keep us active at home.
  • Online courses are going free or at discount prices to help us keep learning.
  • Artists are creating beauty to cheer us up.
  • Writers are sharing inspiring words.
  • We’re taking the time to catch up with friends for a virtual coffee.
  • We’re spending family time together even if it’s over Skype.
  • We have slowed down our hectic schedules.
  • And we’re reminded to appreciate the little things we have.

We are fighting this together and we will get through this together. And I’ll be cheering you on from home.

What is it like in your city? Are you staying at home? I’d love to hear how you are doing and what you’ve been up to.

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