IN PICS: Madrid’s hauntingly quiet streets and dystopian queues of shoppers

Madrid may look like a ghost town, but behind closed doors, it remains a bustling city, writes Leah Pattem.

IN PICS: Madrid's hauntingly quiet streets and dystopian queues of shoppers
Shoppers line up, one metre apart, outside Lidl during Spain's lockdown.All photos by Leah Pattem

The hauntingly quiet streets are beautiful, not just for their unobstructed views and pollution-free air, but also for the solidarity that their emptiness represents. People are boldly going nowhere, together, and that is no more evident than on the streets. 

The peripheral passages around Plaza Mayor have been an informal shelter for homeless people since at least the 2008 financial crisis, so it would be no surprise to see people here, even in times of quarantine.

What is surprising, however, is that these people are no longer invisible – quite the opposite. They’re the only people here and have taken over the whole square like it’s their garden, finally emerging from the shady passages onto the sun-bleached cobblestones worn by many a tourist.

Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s most bustling square by day and night is all but empty except for patrolling police, reporters and digital ad screens scrolling between various pieces of health advice. Sol’s world-famous street buskers are presumably out of work.

Across Madrid, dystopian queues of shoppers wait to be let inside supermarkets, while small, local businesses are struggling to bring in any customers at all. Madrid’s traditional high-street shops survived the financial crisis against all odds, but they will only survive a lockdown if we still visit them – and if the government gives them some relief on their rent and social security payments, as is being discussed.

The reality of Madrid’s lockdown is unpredictable and unnerving, and we don’t really know when we’ll next be able to meet up at the local bar for a caña and a little bowl of olives, but in a way, we’ve never felt closer to our neighbours both near and far.

The nightly applause for health workers extends across the whole country, bringing us out onto our balconies and out of our windows, where we can check that each other are alive and well.

What these empty streets prove, more than ever before, is that Madrid is a community – and that’s something we’ll never be able to unsee.






Leah Pattem is the woman behind Madrid No Frills. If you'd like to follow, and indeed support her work, visit her Patreon page.





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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.