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GALICIA

‘Splendid isolation’: A quiet life in lockdown in rural Galicia

Heath Savage sends a dispatch on rural life under coronavirus lockdown in Galicia.

'Splendid isolation': A quiet life in lockdown in rural Galicia
A shopkeeper peers from his closed store in Santiago de Compostela. Photo: AFP

We are well into our second week of lock down here in Panton. We have laid in a sensible amount of spare food and necessities – nothing excessive, and are well prepared should the emergency continue.

The village is quieter but functioning, and looking after its own. The overworked local social worker, our friend Maria, is coordinating additional home services for the elderly and disabled in addition to her normal work-load, and the two farmacias are dispensing as usual.

Mini-markets and bakeries are working hard, because a trip into Monforte de Lemos, to the supermarkets, is now a bit of an ordeal.

There is an air of sadness mingling like an uninvited guest at a party, slinking around amongst the sunshine and spring bird choirs.

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All of our village cafes are closed, so there is no buzz of conversation in the streets and squares, no kids are playing soccer against the wall of the Concello building.

Every village in Spain has its own, obligatory, teenager on a moped, who seems to spend his day buzzing up and down one street. Ours has been grounded for the duration. I miss him. He has narrowly missed me a few times too.

Here in Casa Girasol, we no longer form a duo, we are a trio. A sextet if you count Minnie, Raphael and Mario.

Our Workaway volunteer arrived two weeks earlier than arranged. He was supposed to house-sit at the end of this month, while we attended a wedding in the UK, which has been postponed.

We are, at this stage, unsure when he will be able to leave – having nowhere definite to go, and Workaway placements being suspended. I hope he likes us! He is enjoying my cooking, anyway, and has performed a couple of miracles in the garden.

When he’s not renovating a shed, and digging, he has his own space, so we are not overcrowded. I can only guess how people who live in small apartments must be managing.

My partner works online, so it’s business as usual for her, and she’s in the study all day every day. I am busy with my own projects, as well as feeding everyone – freezer diving in case we have power outages –  and being creative with leftovers so we don’t waste a single thing.

I am missing our regular Friday lunch group. It’s a jolly mix of Spanish and emigres, and we visit a different venue each week. We get to practise our atrocious Spanish when we get silly on post-prandial chupitas.

Everyone is still enjoying over-the-fence chats with neighbours. It will take more than a pandemic to stop the Spanish talking! And It’s not all news of the virus: we are discussing spring planting, the weather (as always), and our health. Few changes there!

Masses at the village church and at the convent have stopped – something I never thought would happen.

Easter celebrations will be in the home. None of the usual horde of Madrileños will be descending during Semana Santa.  But the bells are still ringing out each day. I have come to pace my day by the convent bells.

People I know are networking online with their social circles, as well as family and friends abroad.

They tell me they are watching lots of tv and movies, reading, gardening (if they have a garden) and crafting. Many are getting on with small maintenance jobs around the homestead, if they can get the necessary materials.

I am setting aside thirty minutes each day to enjoy guided meditations, a practise I allowed to slip during the mayhem of home renovations. I am also reading some of my favourite books again.

Many friends have lost their income, and have little or no savings to cushion them. They are less preoccupied than I with using their additional free time creatively, and are more concerned with how they will manage.

Nobody I know is “panic-buying”, and all are offering to help each other and share.  We and two of our lovely neighbours are feeding and sheltering dogs who were left behind when their family de-camped to stay with relatives in another village.

I have started to keep a “plague diary”. I am noting all of the little things that I observe day-to-day, now that life has shortened pace. As a writer, perhaps my role is also to see and record?

To see a pair of crows fighting off buzzards from their nest; because I have time to sit in the garden and stare at the sky. To see the emotions and expressions in the eyes of the villagers of Panton more vividly, because their mouths and noses are masked. To record what I see, so that this extraordinary time, and the extraordinary actions, of very ordinary people, will be remembered.

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COVID-19

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.

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