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EASTER

How Spain is celebrating Holy Week in lockdown

In the week leading to Easter Sunday, hundreds of colourful processions featuring penitents in cone-shaped hoods and centuries-old religious floats traditionally flood the streets of villages and cities across Spain.

How Spain is celebrating Holy Week in lockdown
Photos: AFP

But with a nationwide lockdown in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, Spaniards are finding ways to mark Holy Week from their homes, by blasting religious music from their balconies or viewing videos of last year's parades.   

In the western city of Salamanca, the association of religious brotherhoods that organises processions is posting pictures on social media of religious icons that would normally be paraded through the streets at the hour that would have taken place. 

“And on our YouTube channel we are posting a video of the procession from last year,” association president Jose Adrian Cornejo told AFP.   

There is one part of the processions that can still go ahead — the singing of “saetas”, short, flamenco prayers sung from balconies which are especially popular in the southwestern region of Andalusia.

Saetas are usually sung as effigies of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried past, but this year they are being performed to empty streets.    

Type in “saetas of confinement” on YouTube and several events come up, including one by Alex Ortiz in Seville — which is not staging Easter processions for the first time since 1933 —  who sings of a “sad spring” without “drums or bugles” in the streets.

 

Toilet paper roll icon

Pablo Murillo, a Catholic father of four, said he was celebrating Holy Week with “more seclusion”.

He was supposed to take part in a Palm Sunday procession but instead listened to the traditional “marchas” — special musical compositions featuring wind instruments and drums that accompany the floats — at home with his sons.

“My oldest who is 12 puts the speakers in the bathroom, and takes a shower while listening to the Holy Week 'marchas',” Murillo said.   

He lives near Seville's largest hospital and every night many neighbours blast “marchas” from their balconies after applauding healthcare workers at 8:00 pm, as people are doing across Europe.

This bus driver in Seville gave his own performance.

While this bus, also in Seville, emulated the processions that would usually be taking place in the city during Semana Santa, entertaining onlooking residents with the jerky movements and sudden lurches that are typical of a float being transported by shuffling penitents.

 

Some people have violated the lockdown rules to celebrate Easter, meanwhile.

In Puerta de Segura, a small town of whitewashed houses in Andalusia, several people left their homes to imitate a procession, with one man carrying a drum and a woman wearing a blanket wrapped around her head like the veils depicted in the statue of the Virgin Mary, images on Spanish TV showed.   

In the nearby town of Porcuna nine women dressed in black and carrying candles walked through the streets, while in the northern city of Palencia two men dressed in a tunic and hood held a mock procession by carrying an “icon” made of toilet paper rolls.

'Really struggling'

Police have joined in on the act. In Seville, two municipal police cars drove slowly in front of a church, stopping at times before moving on just like Holy Week floats do, to the tune of religious music.

With processions called off, many religious brotherhoods have focused on helping fight the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 14,500 lives in Spain, one of the highest tolls in the world.


A man walks past the Pieta Chapel in Seville, adorned with flowers and candles left by the faithful as Easter processions were cancelled. Photo: AFP

In the northern city of Valladolid, 20 brotherhoods donated €1,000 ($1,085) each to buy protective equipment and other urgently needed supplies for healthcare workers, said local association leader Isaias Martinez Iglesias.

Pablo Alen of Seville's Carreteria brotherhood said it would take a “relatively big” economic hit this year, because it will not collect any donations from participants during the traditional Good Friday parade.

With less money coming in the brotherhood's priority is to focus on its charity work such as a soup kitchen, so it will postpone planned restorations of its religious artworks, he added.

“There are people who are asking for help, who are really struggling,” Alen noted.

By Alvaro Villalobos and Emmanuel Michel

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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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