On January 7th, 2020, I was on an airplane flying from Vancouver, Canada, to Spain, fully unaware of what was occurring in Asia with regards to a novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19. Little did I know, in roughly two months we would be on lockdown here in Spain for the foreseeable future in an effort to curb the rapidly increasing countrywide death rate associated with COVID-19.
Like many countries who now find themselves in a similar place, Spain mostly ignored the lessons we should have learned from Italy, and Italy largely ignored the lessons they should have learned from China. The end result for both Spain and Italy is a daily battle to prevent the collapse of the national health care system, and the continuing restriction of liberties in an effort to ‘flatten the curve’ and reduce the deaths that are occurring daily. I myself am guilty of it as well, as what was happening in Italy just didn’t seem real, certainly not enough to make the huge life-affecting changes required.
And now here we are, eight days into our fifteen day quarantine, knowing full well we will be inside for another 4-8 weeks at this point. Currently we are only allowed to do three things outside: to go get groceries (most neighbourhoods have some type of small grocery store within walking distance), to go to the pharmacy, or to walk a dog for five minutes or so. That’s it. We’re not allowed to go for runs, or go to the beach, or hike a mountain, or go sit on a park bench with a coffee – this is a lock down.
That’s why I’m continually frustrated when I see updates from people back in Canada and the United States, outside walking in parks or mostly going on as business as usual. Of course, I wish I could do those things as well, but part of the reason we find ourselves in this situation here in Spain is because we waited too long to basically lock ourselves inside, and the virus quickly took over.
If the first seven days here could be considered essentially a trial period for a lock down, the Spanish government has now entered a new, more serious phase this weekend, handing out steep fines for people travelling for leisure, and even arresting people with no regard for the health or safety of others. This is a scary prospect in any society, but is only occurring because people were continually ignoring demands to stay at home and placing the health of the population in jeopardy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many questions continually come up with friends and family, so I wanted to try and answer a few of them for people.
- How Is Life In Spain? Day to day life is manageable here in Spain. Other than the boredom and melancholy that goes along with self-isolation, mostly things are normal. I can see my grocery store from my window, so I try to plan my trips during periods when there aren’t many people queuing outside. Spain is a very social country where a huge part of daily life involves meeting friends in pubs or cafes and socializing, so a nationwide lockdown is extremely difficult for most Spaniards. Unlike in North America where everyone has fancy tech-toys to pass the time (Netflix, Playstation, etc), I suspect the average Spaniard doesn’t, instead relying on friends and family to fill up the time. So this is exceptionally painful for the country.
- Are Things Getting Better There? Unfortunately not. Based on the latest Spanish COVID-19 Data we still aren’t flattening the curve. Even though the incubation period is 2-14 days, the actual mean incubation period is more like 5.8 days, so we should have started to see the curve flattening. I suspect it hasn’t because a sizeable percentage of the population has been ignoring the requirement to stay at home, and continuing to interact with people. This is why going forward our police and military are going to be more involved, and ultimately the end result for any country where people don’t abide by the recommendations.
- How Long Will It Last? It’s hard to say, but China did a full lock down on January 23rd, and has only recently started to lift it. So if that experience translates to other countries, then it’s likely to take two months under strict quarantine for the virus to effectively disappear. Given what I’ve seen here in Spain, where people are a bit more sceptical of sweeping government mandates, I imagine it will take longer. And of course if people continually choose to go outside when they should be at home, it will take even longer (which effectively makes the sacrifices of those staying at home worthless).
- How Do You Pass The Time? Most of my client work as a freelancer has dried up, which seems to be typical in the industry. So I’m using my time to refresh some skills and to work on some of my websites. Zoom has been absolutely invaluable as a tool to keep in touch with friends and family, and some of us try to have conference calls in the evenings to have some type of social interaction. I have lots of home improvement tasks I could be working on, but since all my neighbours are quarantined at home as well I’m not super keen on pulling out the saw and making lots of disruptive noise.
- What Do You Miss The Most? To be honest, I miss various things. But one of the favourite parts of my day was always my morning coffee down the road from me. A huge part of Spanish culture involves simply sitting in the sun and enjoying a food or beverage, and I miss my morning “me time” with a nice coffee.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of this pandemic is that people seem extremely reluctant to take the advice of others who have already experienced it, or are currently experiencing it. You would think with the internet and the multitude of ways we can keep in touch and communicate that this wouldn’t be the case, but strangely most people have this attitude of “well, it will be different here,” when it most likely won’t be. Despite that, I’m going to do my best to appeal to some of my friends and associates back in North America with some of my recommendations. These are items we have learned from experience here, but should have learned from our Italian friends who were imploring us to do some of them previously.
In terms of my recommendations for people in North America, here’s a short list:
- Stay At Home. I can’t stress this enough. While technically you can go walk around and practice social distancing in public, it just doesn’t work. Someone will see someone else walking along the beach and misinterpret it, and then go out and think they can sunbathe. And then someone else will show up, and pretty soon you have a pile of people at the beach, which just happened yesterday at Sydney, Australia’s Bondi beach (which is now shut down due to people continuing to abuse it). You need to be isolating at home, not outside with your kids or loved ones. I realize it’s painful to not get any fresh air or to get any exercise, but that’s what’s going to be required. The sooner you get used to it, the sooner things will get better. And while I’m not a huge fan of social-shaming, it’s probably time to start lecturing your friends and family to do the same.
- Travel. If you’re planning on going on a trip now, cancel it. Seriously. I still see people boarding airplanes and going to Mexico or other fantastical spots. I hate to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, but honestly in a time of crisis like this where self-isolation is required, boarding an airplane for a vacation is an incredibly selfish thing to do. The whole argument “well I have to live too” is understandable, but you can live at home as well, certainly for now. I saw someone call this our “civic responsibility” – our duty to our fellow citizens to stay at home and help stop the spread of the disease – and I agree. The only legitimate travel in my mind right now involves repatriation flights to get loved ones back home when they are out of country.
- Getting Groceries. My sister works in a grocery store in Canada, and she seems pretty worn out. Customers come in and take out all their frustrations at the staff, most of which don’t particularly want to be working in one of the most hazardous environments from a health perspective in a pandemic. Most don’t have any masks to use, or gloves to wear, and yet they are risking their lives daily so that you and your family can eat. So please go easy on them. In terms of quantities, just buy a reasonable amount, no more than you’d normally pick up. Yes, the shelves will be emptier than normal (they were here too) because of panic buying. But the surest way to create even more panic is to completely empty the shelves and make people legitimately worried for their lives. The food will continue to come. I’ve seen some friends back home urge others to buy enough groceries to stay at home for a long time – I disagree, as that’s a pretty close definition to hoarding. Simply buy enough to last you until your next shopping trip. And trust me, even though it’s dangerous outside, after being locked home for days or weeks, you’ll be looking forward to making a trip to the grocery store anyways.
- Hospitals. I’m no doctor, but I know the health care system here (one of the world’s best) is struggling. I have friends who are doctors, and most of them no longer have any masks to wear, but are helping anyways. That’s why here in Spain at roughly 8pm we gather on our balconies and clap – recognition for the countless healthcare workers who risk their lives daily. If you aren’t really that sick, you may want to consider staying home. I’m sure a sniffle or a sneeze may be cause for worry, but it’s quite possible it’s just a cold and will go away on its own. Hospitals are extremely busy right now dealing with actual infected people, so it’s best to try and help reduce their burden.
- Preparation. If you’re hunkering down in North America and getting ready for what’s about to come (and trust me, it will come), I’d recommend dusting off the board games, especially if you have children. You are going to have a lot of time to fill, and even the most inventive people will likely struggle to fill the days. I definitely recommend calling friends and family once a day and having a video chat with them. If you want to write about some of what you are going through, grab a free website at WordPress.com. Stock up on groceries, but not too much as other people need to eat too. If you still have Amazon where you are, place an order for a few new books and whatever items you need while you can.
If there was to be a bright side to all of this, it would probably be the fact that the planet is using this opportunity to heal itself slightly. The canals in Venice have cleared up, pollution in Northern Italy is decreasing at a rate of about 10% a week, and deer are being spotted in forests long bereft of them in Japan. While being locked up for eight days has been a bit trying, there is a real hopefulness amongst my friends here that this event will bring humanity a bit closer together and make us realize how crucially interdependent we are despite our differences in location or culture. Of course the deaths are tragic, but what would be even more tragic is to ignore the lessons we will all learn during this period of time, and to not adjust society going forward when this is over.
This virus doesn’t care about the colour of your skin, or what deity you believe in. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, or whether you like cow’s milk or almond milk. It’s going to come regardless, and we need to do what’s necessary to survive this and to ultimately recover from this. In short, we are all in this together. So let’s do our best to help each other through this. Be kind to each other during this time, and just as important, be kind to yourself. While the next few months are likely to be trying, we will eventually be on the other side of this. And until then, it’s up to all of us to do our best to support each other, and to show kindness to the many workers who are putting their lives at risk for your benefit – healthcare, pharmacy, retail, grocery, etc. If anyone needs to chat, feel free to drop me a line via the contact form. But try to keep busy, try to stay positive, and more importantly, try to stay isolated at home.
Update: Spain has just announced the quarantine/lock-down will be extended another two weeks [link]