Life in Lockdown

A normally bustling street in Fuengirola, Malaga. Credit: Author

Three days ago, seemingly following the actions of nearby Italy, Spain announced a state of emergency (estado de alarma) and along with it, sweeping new measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Measures never seen before in a democratic country in peacetime, unilateral restrictions on the free movement of citizens.

In this post I’ll share some of my first hand accounts of life in lockdown.

How we got here

People here have been glued to the news for some time now and have talked of little else apart from coronavirus for over a week. A nervous tension has been slowly building, after watching the drastic actions of Italy, the first European country to impose nationwide restrictions to combat the virus, the feeling that a dark storm was coming was growing every day.

On Thursday 12th March the realities started dawning when authorities in Spain announced the closure of all schools and education facilities across the country effective from Monday. Not long after that, many local authorities (“Juntas”) including Andalucía, announced recommendations to close all non necessary commercial businesses including bars, restaurants and non-essential shops. They began closing all establishments under their jurisdiction including public parks, libraries and other public buildings but lacked the authority to oblige privately owned businesses to close. But this was setting the tone to what was surely to come.

It was clear that something big was going to happen, and we just had to sit and wait.

On the afternoon of Saturday 14th March I was sat in a bar with a friend, the usual mixture of Spanish and English music that normally would be heard was replaced by the voice of TV news presenters. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was due to address the nation shortly.

There was not much talk of anything else, speculation and rumours circulated and there was a notable anxiety and anticipation filling the room. It was clear that something big was going to happen, and we just had to sit and wait.

I assured my friend, who lives alone, that they will surely close bars and restaurants, but I doubt they would go “full Italy” and impose a complete lockdown on movement. An hour later that all changed.

That night Spain announced sweeping and drastic curbs on all residents and citizens of the country. All businesses except for pharmacies, supermarkets and other outlets considered essential were to close for fifteen days and people would only be allowed out of their homes for specific reasons.

The atmosphere was something I had never witnessed. A deep sense of anxiety, disbelief and fear of what was to come. Within an hour of the nationwide address, a police officer kitted out with gloves and a surgical mask walks in and orders the bar to shut down its terraces.

It had begun.

Life in Lockdown; Day 1

We woke up on Sunday morning in a bit of a haze. Like emerging from a disturbing dream, but then realizing that it was real. After checking the latest news for details on what we could and couldn’t do, which at that point was not particularly clear, we decided to head out to buy bread. Shopping is one of the activities that are allowed.

Heading out onto the main street, normally quiet but still ticking along on a Sunday, was one of the most surreal experiences I can remember. The roads were empty, one or two people were walking around, mostly with shopping bags. There was a strange sense of bewilderment with everyone walking around in an almost zombie like state.

The first real sign of control came when a police car pulled up outside of the bread shop ordering the establishment to only accept two people inside at any one time. Following the rules laid out, we made our purchase and headed straight back home. Since then we’ve seen a lot more control put around access to other shops and supermarkets.

Throughout that first day there was a strange atmosphere in our house. Sundays in our family are usually quite busy, in the morning I would be driving to the park with my youngest son to play for a few hours, followed by lunch as a family and normally the afternoon would be spent meeting friends in town. Suddenly we found ourselves just standing there, numb, not quite knowing what to do. This feeling of unease was compounded by the background noise of police helicopters flying around overhead and megaphone announcements echoing around town telling people to return to their houses. It was the stuff of movies, making the link between that and reality in my head is something I’m still struggling with.

The First Week

Sunday saw the police acting in more of an advisory role, using megaphones and even drones to tell people to return to their homes. It’s been reported that they were taking a softer approach on Sunday because there was confusion over the official start of the new measures as the first statement had said Monday, but that was later pulled back to Saturday. Since Sunday however, there has been an obvious change in how the police are responding to people out of their homes without a justified reason, from heavy fines to arrests for those who even remotely try and defy the authorities.

Watching my bustling tourist town turn into an urban desert with police patrols and even the army deployed to ensure civil obedience and curtail the activities of an entire country is still a very unnerving experience.

The times that I have left the house with my car, with good reason, has been a truly unsettling experience. Driving on streets that are normally backed up with cars going about their daily business, now desolate, even stopping at traffic lights seems irrelevant (although I still do it!). Travelling with all the documentation that I can think of to prove my identity, place of work and place of residence. Looking apprehensively at my rear view mirror every time I pass a police car to see if it’s going to pull me over. Constantly wondering how you will justify to the police why you are doing something as simple as driving down the street is a concept that we as citizens of western democratic countries simply can’t comprehend with any degree of ease. What is happening right now in Spain and now other countries around Europe is truly unprecedented.

Accepting that I have lost a significant amount of my freedoms and liberties is a hard pill to swallow. Watching my bustling tourist town turn into an urban desert with police patrols and even the army deployed to ensure civil obedience and curtail the activities of an entire country is still a very unnerving experience.

With speculation already mounting about the period of quarantine being extended a further 15 days more, meaning a month of living under lockdown, everyone is trying to digest the reality of the situation. It’s a process that each one of us handles differently, but for me I think I’m arriving at the level where I am starting to accept this as the reality, but the anxiety and apprehension over how life will be over the next four weeks is piling up, and the economic repercussions that could last for months or years after hasn’t quite sunk in.

Over the next few weeks I’ll try and document how the situation progresses, from facts on the ground to more subtle subjects like the psychological effects of the lockdown.

— Until then, stay safe.

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Software Engineer, Consultant, Writer

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Craig Dunn

Craig Dunn

Software Engineer, Consultant, Writer

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