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.