Journal of the virus year: Chapter 7

I can’t remember exactly when we came out of the lock down in Alicante, but it was a few weeks ago. What I do know is that I wrote Chapter 6 of this blog series on 25 March 2020 – eleven days into the lock down in Spain – and then things got really busy. I was involved on a number of fronts online, doing translation work and helping to coordinate the support for a small number of older citizens who were isolated in remote places. I left off this blog journal as most of the action was then on social media, responding to requests and acting with others.

It is now a suitable moment for further reflection. It is a key moment, actually and some serious personal choices need to be made. To be honest, it doesn’t look very good here in Spain at the moment.

On Monday I went for a drink in the Bar Cantonet – my customary watering hole in Finestrat – for the first time since 19 February! It seemed odd to be once again parking my bicycle against the usual post by the pedestrian crossing and admiring my bottle of Estrella Galicia in the light of the evening sun. I chose the table furthest away from the only two customers seated outside and was joined by my drinking buddy Carl for the first time since that last beer in the Cantonet on 19 February! (Why February? I had intended to stop for Lent, then Covid-19 arrived…)

Now, five months later, we followed the regulations to the letter: keeping on masks to go into the bar to order a drink; removing masks to consume drinks outside at the table. Despite the very clear rule now in País Valenciá that masks are compulsory in the street, we observed various groups of mainly village youngsters walking past with no masks. A former student of mine, who must be about eighteen now, came up and stood within a metre with no mask, telling me her news.

Her news is about the future: she hopes to go to Alicante university. My news is about the past: I stayed alive for five months by following the Covid safety regulations.

On Wednesday evening I had a second drink at the Bar Cantonet, again with my drinking buddy and his wife, and this experience was worrying. As we sat there, three separate individuals came up to talk to us at various points: standing over us at close range. One wearing a mask who kept it on but eventually slightly lowered to talk; one who removed his mask immediately to talk; and one lazily carrying his mask on his wrist with no intention of wearing it. All three of them seemed to think nothing of standing over seated people to breathe down at us from a distance which could only be described as antisocial in these times.

That for me was the defining moment. I have reassessed my openness to going out socialising as a result: there is simply not a way of doing this safely.

With Covid infection rates already going up again in Spain generally and this area following the general pattern, it doesn’t matter how closely you follow the law and show respect for other people by observing social distance and mask-wearing, you will eventually have your life put at risk by people who simply don’t recognize the seriousness of the situation we are all in. After these individual had been and gone – leaving me somewhat shaken by the experience – I made my feelings clear on the matter.

“Well Gareth,” came the answer, “you have to accept some risk otherwise you’ll never go out.”

I had joked earlier on Whatsapp with my daughter, “If I die of anything it’s more likely to be the mussels in the Cantonet. 😄”

The tapas tend to be sitting in the sunny side of the bar in the evening in their glass cabinet, so there is indeed an element of risk in opting for the mussels. On the other hand, it is my choice, rather than someone choosing to stand over me spraying me with sputum that may contain a killer respiratory virus when I am 69 and already have weakened lungs due to childhood asthma.

That is a different category of risk and involves social responsibility, which to be honest I see better observed by the Spanish population than the British. So I decided after returning home from the Bar Cantonet on Wednesday that would be the last visit for now. I survived the lockdown without too much concern about the loss of my social life. I do a weekly shopping trip to the supermarket in Vilajoiosa and have a couple of beers in a bar where nobody knows me: which is so much safer. Nobody comes up and stands over me having a long conversation without a mask. I can quite happily go without such conversation in these times.

As I write this, the Friday evening news in Spain is that several countries are now quarantining arrivals from Spain and France is watching developments closely while considering the land border with Spain. Barcelona has shut down all night clubs and dance venues. The number of cases is now rising to the point we saw in Spain during the last days of the lockdown. And I hear the increasing sound of holiday flights coming in over these mountains towards Alicante airport, many of these flights coming from the UK: a country where they have only just decided to put on face masks in shops today. We have been doing that in Spain for four months, for God’s sake!

I don’t know about you, but I feel safer imposing my own lock down again. Stay at home. Quedate en casa. And live. For until everyone is on board and acting responsibly, there is no safe way to socialise.

Update Saturday 25 July:

I was curious about the urgency of instructions in some countries telling their citizens not to travel to Catalonia (Barcelona being a very popular city-breaks destination) because when I looked at the official government figures for current infections in that region they did not seem very high. Now it appears there is under-reporting of the rate of infections from the health ministry (by as much as 90%!) compared with the regional health authority figures. So, for example, the Ministerio de Sanidad in Madrid reports 26 hospitalisations in Catalonia on Thursday 23 July, while the Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries de Catalunya in Barcelona reports 345 for the same day… (!)

This under-reporting is not just confined to the present Covid situation in Catalonia. The same source suggests a similar mismatch in figures for other Spanish regions compred with the official government figures. So I wonder how that kind of mismatch is part of a deliberate under-reporting connected with the present emphasis on getting the economy “back to normal”? Hiding the bad news will not boost the confidence of those like myself who are now convinced it is quite unsafe to resume any kind of normal life outside of home.

Second update 8pm Spanish time:

Seldom has this blog been more ahead of the game.

Just announced in past hour: “British government to announce quarantine for arrivals from Spain.” The Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman has tweeted that the UK government will be announcing shortly that tourists who have visited Spain will have to quarantine for two weeks when they return to England from Sunday, as Spain experiences a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Now perhaps they will desist from the upbeat daily YouTube encouragements from British businesses in Benidorm for Brits to “get out here!” The game is up.


9 thoughts on “Journal of the virus year: Chapter 7

  1. Hi Gareth. Believe it or believe it not, we have not been to any bars since February. We have restricted our “outings” to shopping where and when necessary and about three weeks ago for the first time since February we drove to one of our favourite restaurants in La Nucia. All tables very well spaced and everyone wearing a mask. Driving through Benidorm we have been amazed at the carelessness of the majority of people and in the village we are flabbergasted that so many are not taking the simple precaution of wearing a mask. We are still taking no risks and shall contnue to be overly cautious. We have had three flights cancelled – the last on the 6th July – and we have one still open on the 24th August. We shall not take it, even if it is not cancelled. Staying home is the only sensible option! All good wishes – at least you have the donkeys for company!

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  2. Yes: the donkeys are safe friends!

    Apparently the “unofficial” briefings given to bars and restaurants in Finestrat encourage them to make as much money as they can to keep themselves afloat a bit longer, pay no bills for the moment, and expect a new lock down in a few weeks time. (I shall no longer be a volunteer guinea pig in this economic experiment! I’ve contributed my thirteen Euros and sixty cents to the cause, and that’s it for now!)

    El País reports this morning 922 new cases in 24 hours which exceeds the daily figure on the eve of lock down (810 on 12 March). However, the big difference this time is that the new cases show an enormous increase (doubling) of infected people under forty and a particularly high rate of infection among the 20-30 age group. This is to be expected as a result of poorly observed social distancing and mask-wearing rules, as we can see for example in Finestrat.

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  3. Hi Gareth, I completely agree! Being now 78 and of course in the vunerable catagory, it just amazes me how people behave when shopping. The ‘Face’ masks are either around their chin or under their nose! It’s like walking around with your underpants around your ankles! I have now been out only 2 the first time to a friends house who sorted my MOT for my car. And the second one was indeed this last week to take a ‘cautious’ look around my local city. Sitting outside having a Café con Leche. Normally only going out once a week in my car to the local supermarket to buy food for the whole week.
    My sojourn into the city was nevertheless fraught with anxiety after spending 141 days in quarentine at home! Living on the edge of a large forest gives me the chance of getting out without seeing anybody and getting not only some ‘fresh’ air but some nedded exercise!
    But indeed the U.K. is pitful. So if I were you stay where you are and like me enjoy a glass of furmented grapes!!
    Good health or in Hungarian; Egészségedre!

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  4. The whole situation is becoming increasingly confusing! Mum and I have very much been continuing as if still in lockdown mode, but then decided to venture out to a garden centre yesterday. The social distancing behaviour of staff and customers was extremely random and it was difficult to know whether we were behind the times, or behaving how everybody else ought to be. Only saw two people wearing masks. It was quite stressful having to be continually aware of what other people were doing, whereas, if we were all simply following the same guidelines it would have been less farcical and much more reassuring. Ironically, while some people are continuing as normal in a garden centre, the idea of stopping for a drink in the garden at the Glas Fryn pub, on the way home, was quickly put out, as it was still very much closed! Donde es la cerveza por favor?!

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  5. Well, Arthur, I shall enjoy a glass or two of wine. I have just returned from shopping during what is normally the quiet time in the supermarket in Vila, but it turned out to be full of tourists now. It makes me very angry to see just how many people are pouring into the country now, and they have no idea how we have spent these months, as a society, working together and becoming socialised in the safety regulations. It is now haphazard and careless. I just told a woman who was obviously English to “Get the fuck away from the cheese shelf until I’ve finished!” I hope that message was clear enough… 🙂

    I’ve already made the decision not to return to socialising in bars – after the experience ion Finestrat recounted above – but I’m beginning to work out a more positive plan. “I will not go out to the bar” is a rather depressing resolution, just as “I will stop buying meat” (without becoming a vegetarian again) was my response to the high Covid-19 incidence in meat factories. So, here’s the positive alternative resolution: “I will spend what I save by not drinking ion in bars buying the more expensive produce in the supermarket that I usually don’t bother with…” (fancy ice creams, cakes, frozen prawns etc!) And on my way home from the supermarket I suddenly has a great idea! I’ll buy a leg of ham and a carving knife. That will last for ages and avoid all the Covid-19 worries that made me stop buying meat a couple of months ago. Plus it is another thing to be positive about! This is the key to surviving the “new normal”: treat yourself. Instead of spending 6.80 euros on four small bottles of beer in the bar, why not buy the 5.80 euro bottle of decent Ribera wine? And still save money!

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  6. Alys, I never cease to be amazed by the situation in the UK. I know that a garden centre is mixed indoors/outdoors but there is no reason why masks should not be worn by everyone. Not wearing one is now becoming as antisocial as smoking in the supermarket (who would dream of doing that!) and people who ignore everyone else’s health need to be challenged just as forcefully as that would be, and made to realise what complete arses they are!

    But you also need to plan for shopping at the right time: if you are going out to supermarkets or garden centres, you need to plan in advance and know the quiet times. If the place opens at 9 am, get there at 9 am and plan in advance to get your timings right.
    (For example, I’m now thinking about a Tuesday afternoon shop at Consum in Vila because the tourist invasion means the previous Spanish quiet time of Friday or Saturday between 2.30-3.30 pm no longer works.) So, it is just as important to consider not just hand-sanitising and mask-wearing, but organising your timing to avoid busy periods.

    As I said for months during the lockdown, each trip has to be planned like a military operation: if you’re going shopping next day prepare the car the day before, with shopping bags, hand-sanitiser, kitchen roll, masks etc. Have your debit/credit card in a handy pocket (out of your purse/wallet) ready for use, so you are not reaching in bags handling everything more than necessary. I put payment card in shirt pocket (I have abandoned using a loyalty card as it’s one thing less to be handled) and I keep hand-sanitiser, kitchen roll, disposable gloves, spare masks, etc on the rear shelf of the car. You need a mobile sanitising station like this to remind you to keep up the routine. It is all a flaming nuisance (and personally I DO blame the Chinese!!!) but all this attention to detail keeps us alive.

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  7. Gareth : “I was curious about the urgency of instructions in some countries telling their citizens not to travel to Catalonia (Barcelona being a very popular city-breaks destination) because when I looked at the official government figures for current infections in that region they did not seem very high.

    … except that the epicenter of the new cases in Barcelona itself is at Hospital de Llobregat, i.e. right next to the airport.

    The next stage of my current Camino starts from Lleida, and so right at the major epicenter of the epidemic in Catalonia, and the worst hit place I think in Spain, which has shut down (again) the whole area between Lleida, Huesca, and Zaragoza. However long it takes it to clear up is the minimum amount of time I’ll have to wait before setting off again.

    (EDITED: 26/07/20 This blog is scrupulous in keeping out any information regarding Covid-19 – particularly in Spain – which is not strictly accurate. The complex outbreak in the centre of Barcelona and the first ring of the metropolitan area cannot be summarised as it has been here, see strikethrough, which is quite misleading. Incidentally the best place for live updates on the situation in Barcelona is – unsurprisingly – La Vanguardia.)

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