Coronavirus in Spain: The abuela guide to staying sane during lockdown

Alone inside her spacious living room, Marichu is swept away by the music, arms aloft, as she taps out a Sevillana, a flamenco-like dance that is normally performed in pairs or a group.

Coronavirus in Spain: The abuela guide to staying sane during lockdown
Mercedes Aceituno poses at her door in Madrid. Photos by Gabriel Bouys / AFP

“We must be patient, be prudent,” this 74-year-old widow tells herself of the coronavirus epidemic ravaging Spain, which is suffering the world's second most deadly outbreak after Italy.

Marichu, whose real name is Maria Zabala, is part of a lively group of pensioners who meet up three times a week to tend their urban allotment behind a church in the historic centre of Madrid.

But all that came to a halt when the government ordered an unprecedented lockdown on March 14th to curb the epidemic which has claimed over 9,000 lives and infected more than 100,000 people, with the Madrid the worst-hit region.    

Leaving her door half open, an AFP photographer stationed a good distance away was able to get a brief glimpse into Marichu's private world.   

“We'll get through this,” says Marichu, who has five children and 12 grandchildren and who used to attend weekly Sevillana classes at a centre for the elderly before the lockdown.

But she's not given up, the vibrant guitar rhythms and staccato beat of castanets filling her apartment as she goes through the choreographed motions of Spain's most popular folk dance.

When she's not dancing, she can be found cutting up old milk cartons, filling them with soil and planting tomato and cucumber seed that may one day find their way into her urban allotment.

'Well prepared for lockdown'

Sharing her passion for plants is 81-year-old Mercedes Aceituno, whose balcony is filled to overflowing with all manner of greenery.   

Born in the southwestern region of Extremadura, she went to Madrid at 18 and worked as a maid before opening a shop selling dried fruit and nuts.    

“I spent 40 years in my tiny fruit and nut shop… so I'm used to being shut up in a tiny space,” she says.

People age well in Spain, which has an average life span of 83.3 years, one of the highest in the world after Japan, Switzerland and Italy.    

But as the virus has swept through the population, its effect on the elderly has been singular, with the vast majority of the dead over the age of 70.

So Mercedes no longer leaves her third-floor apartment, and a neighbour does her shopping, leaving it outside the front door — with Mercedes thanking her with home-made Spanish omelettes.

'Don't stay in pyjamas'

For Spain's nearly 47 million population, lockdown is the new normal, with the health ministry issuing daily updates on the numbers, along with a few other pearls of wisdom: “don't spend all day in your pyjamas” and “don't watch too much news”.

“It's not good for your head” all that news on television, says Doris Blas, a lively 65-year-old in a red jumper who is also part of the gardening group.    

“It doesn't help to keep thinking about the number of dead and how dreadful it is.”

She doesn't watch the news, preferring to read novels or phone her friends and family, as well as watching a daily mass online and praying.    

“We must use this time to slow down,” she reflects.    

“We're always saying we don't have time to think… Then this bug turns up and puts us in our place. When that happens, we realise we're not as strong as we thought.”

When the three avid gardeners will meet again is anyone's guess — but they're looking forward to it.

“When it calms down, we'll definitely get together for a beer,” says Marichu.   

“We'll sit in the sun and talk about everything we've been doing and make plans for the allotment — which makes us all feel alive.”

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux




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What are Spain’s current rules for asymptomatic and mild Covid cases?

Spain is currently experiencing an eighth Covid wave. For those who test positive during the summer of 2022, here's a reminder of all the rules and recommendations you need to be aware of, concerning asymptomatic, mild and serious cases.

What are Spain's current rules for asymptomatic and mild Covid cases?

No one wants to get Covid, particularly when the summer season is approaching and many have booked their annual holidays.

But if you do find that you test positive for Covid-19, here’s what you need to know about Spain’s current health rules. 

Whatever questions you have, from wanting to know if you still need to get an official test or inform your doctor, to whether you can go outside and if you need to wear a face mask, we’ve got you covered. 

Q: What if I get Covid but don’t have any symptoms?

A: If you are asymptomatic, in other words you test positive for Covid-19 but don’t experience any symptoms, then it’s not necessary to self-isolate and you are not required to quarantine at home.

Spain’s quarantine requirement for asymptomatic cases was dropped as of March 28th 2022.

However, the health body that advises Spain’s Health Ministry recommends that you still stay at home and rest and that if you do go out, you wear a mask indoors and outdoors, and that you keep social contact to a minimum for a week. 

Q: What if I have mild Covid symptoms?

A: If you have mild Covid symptoms, you fall into the same category as those who have no symptoms for Spanish health authorities.

This means that while it’s not mandatory to isolate at home, you should still rest, wear a mask indoors and outdoors and avoid social contact.

The obligatory quarantine for mild cases was also scrapped as of March 28th, 2022.

Q: What if I have severe Covid symptoms?

A: If you have serious Covid symptoms, Spain’s Health Ministry continues to require a quarantine period of seven days, meaning that it’s mandatory.

It is also still required for those classified as part of the high-risk or vulnerable population, which includes those aged 60 or older, immunosuppressed people and pregnant women. 

Q: Am I allowed to go outside if I have Covid?

A: Yes, as mentioned above, if you have mild or asymptomatic symptoms you are allowed to go outside while you have Covid. However, you should limit your contact with others for a week to make sure you’re not putting others at risk. You should aim to stay at home as much as possible until your symptoms disappear.

Keep in mind that you are highly contagious in the first few days of the illness, so you may want to avoid going out during that time.

Q: Can I go to events if I have Covid-19?

A: Yes, you can leave the house if you have Covid-19, but as you’re expected to limit your contact with others, going to a large event with hundreds of people is not recommended. You could unknowingly be putting vulnerable people at risk. Health authorities still recommend that you avoid gatherings for at least a week after a positive test. 

Q: Do I need to wear a mask if I test positive?

A: The Spanish Health Ministry has confirmed that those who have Covid must wear a mask for “ten days from the diagnosis” of the virus.

They should be worn indoors, as well as outdoors, if a distance can’t be maintained from others. Experts recommend using the FFP2 masks during this time because even if your symptoms are mild, you can still be contagious.

READ ALSO: How likely is it that Spain will make face masks mandatory indoors again?

Q: Can I go to work if I have Covid-19?

A: If you have mild or asymptomatic Covid-19, although the recommendation is to work from home or take sick leave, you can still go in.

However, the health authorities recommend that you wear a mask, avoid contact with vulnerable people and avoid enclosed spaces with little ventilation.

Q: Is it necessary to get officially tested?

A: No, it’s not necessary to get a PCR or antigen done at your local health centre or at a private clinic any more. An antigen test bought from a pharmacy and performed at home will suffice.

Only those with serious symptoms and high-risk groups should get tested now. Although you it’s not necessary anymore to confirm your infection with a test, it’s still useful to test yourself at home so you can avoid contact with others if it’s positive and know when you can get back to life as normal.

Q: Do I have to tell my doctor if I have or have recently had Covid?

A: No, it’s not necessary for everyone to call their doctor if they have Covid, because not all cases are being counted by authorities anymore.

You may, however, still need to call your doctor if you need to sick leave from work. Those in Catalonia will be given an automatic five-day sick leave if they have Covid symptoms, even if they don’t take a test.  

If you are over the age of 60, are immunosuppressed or are in a high risk group, it’s still a good idea to tell your doctor if you test positive.

Q: What do I do if I have come into close contact with someone who has Covid-19?

A: If you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid, it’s not necessary for you to take a test or to self-isolate.

The health authorities do recommend that you take precautions though, such as limiting social interactions, wearing a mask and avoid vulnerable people.

Remember that the days before you test positive, but after you have been exposed to the virus are when you are the most contagious. 

Q: What if I get Covid while on holiday in Spain?

A: If you have a mild or asymptomatic case of Covid-19 while on holiday in Spain, you don’t have to quarantine and you don’t have to inform the local health authorities, unless you are in a vulnerable category.

Like above, Spain’s Health Ministry only recommends that you stay at home and rest, that if you do have to go out you wear a mask indoors and outdoors, and that you keep social contact to a minimum for a week.

Different countries have different rules so you may not be able to travel home if you have Covid and may have to wait until you test negative.

READ MORE: What tourists should do if they get Covid while on holiday in Spain?