Homework battles and family games: Welcome to life under lockdown in Spain

With the schools closed and authorities advising 'social distancing', Graham Keeley, his partner and their three boys are cooped up together in an apartment outside Barcelona. It's only day one, but life is already proving a bit of a challenge.

Homework battles and family games: Welcome to life under lockdown in Spain
Home schooling during the coronavirus shutdown. Photo: G Keeley

As soon as word gets out that the schools are closing down, there is a mad rush to find old computers so our three boys can work at home.

The idea is that they can take part in lessons at home online. But how to keep them focused on maths instead of Minecraft?

Computer cables we threw away years ago suddenly seem like gold dust. Despite an increasingly frantic search, they cannot be found. This raises the dread prospect of computer sharing – but how will the adults ever get anything done?

Next is a dash to the very empty supermarket. But it seems we are too late. The shelves of meat and chicken have been stripped clear.


Photo of empty shelves at a supermarket in Spain this week. Photo: AFP

Welcome to life under lockdown in Spain. As I write this, the death toll has risen to 120 and over 4,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus. 

On the news, they are saying the government will announce a state of alert.

Back at home there is no shortage of domestic alarm going on as we try to explain how life is going to pan out for three boys who think coronavirus is a bit of a holiday.

Timetables for homework, breaks, free time and household chores are drawn up. Then begins the negotiation.

Our eldest has (thankfully) been given a timetable by his school for his day and has to log on at 9am to begin classes.

We are impressed but I become suspicious when I hear laughter coming from his room.

It turns out the class have set up their own chat room for when the (online) teacher is absent. I turn a blind eye. He is, at least conscientious, I say to myself. 

However, his twin brothers are another thing. As they are only ten-years-old, they are given homework but not much more. The battle comes when we try to explain that even if they have done all their homework, they should still try to do more for intellectual stimulation. Extra French verbs anyone? But how can French grammar compare with the joys of You Tube?

We are saved by a call from the school offering to lend us Google Chrome Book computers. It solves the battle to get online at home. However, a quick dash to the school reveals a lot.

The streets are deserted. As we drive down the motorway, there are only a few cars. But coming back, the beach seems busy. It seems people are reasoning it is safe to go for a stroll in the open away from others. A few beach bars, which have stayed open, seem quite full.

Paranoia is beginning to get to us. We arrive home and clean the computers with alcohol, according to the advice. Then ritually wash our hands.

Social life is suddenly reduced to nil. This is another difficult thing to explain to children. They hoped to see their friends. But it will be some time, I fear, before anyone really wants to meet up. So a birthday party is cancelled. Guitar lessons are suspended. But it does have some plus points – the unpopular piano lessons are put on hold.

Before the schools were closed, some parents I know had joked that we could put the children together and offer home teaching. I could do English classes, a boffin friend would teach physics and a Spanish mother would teach her own language. This seems a little far off just now.

For anyone with a chronic medical condition like me the coronavirus pandemic presents a problem.

Getting hold of the medicine I need for epilepsy means a trip to a pharmacy, which should not be hard. However, my regular chemist is in Barcelona city centre, a two-hour round trip away.

More importantly, it involves going into a busy city centre. So, to make things easier for me – and perhaps safer – I start a complicated series of telephone calls, to pick up the drugs from a pharmacy which is closer to home. Thankfully, it all comes off without a hitch but only because I am friendly with the pharmacist who is friends with another pharmacist. Enchufe, as they say in Spain.

Travelling has been put on hold which is a big shame. We had planned to go to see family in, of all places, Venice. It had been something we had cherished for a long time, but now looks like we will cancel. But how to get the money back from the hoteliers and the airline?

Quite how long this is going to go on, who knows. France has closed the schools indefinitely. Yikes!

Boredom is the mother of invention! Improvising games in the Keeley household. 

However, it has thrown up some pleasant surprises. Cooped up together, it has made us improvise. One of the boys devised a game which involved dressing up and eating chocolate. (The rules are too difficult to explain here dear reader) . Suffice to say, it was something of a throw back to those far off days when you used to dream up family games. Fancy that?


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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.