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SUE WILSON

OPINION: What’s the first thing you’ll do when Spain’s lockdown is lifted?

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain considers what life will be like when lockdown in lifted.

OPINION: What's the first thing you'll do when Spain's lockdown is lifted?
A walk on the beach is top of the list. Photos: AFP

As the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths now thankfully seem past their peak, we’re starting to hope that an end to the lockdown is in sight. Dare we start to believe that Spain has flattened the coronavirus curve? Have we passed the worst stages of the pandemic?  

On Wednesday April 8th, María Jesús Montero,finance minister and government spokesperson, said that the government hoped to loosen lockdown measuresin “progressive stages” from April 26th.

This statement was later retracted by Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, who said it was too soon to consider lifting the restrictions. The government is reportedly “not discarding” the idea of now prolonging the quarantine until May 10th.

After so many horror stories and so much bad news, it’s tempting to grasp at any glimmer of light, no matter how distant. Despite the lockdown being stringent, we’re grateful for the measures implemented by the Spanish government.

Although there has been criticism of the way the crisis has been handled, the government measures have provided reassurance during a worrying time.

Although the Covid-19 trajectory is still frightening, watching the death rate gradually decline brings some comfort. The lockdown measures have been necessary and are proving effective. The price we pay by staying at home is as nothing when compared to the sacrifices made by others.

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No doubt the lockdown itself has been more difficult for some to deal with than for others. For all of us, though, it has given us pause to reflect on what is important. What have we missed the most? What have we realised we can, or can’t live, without? And what can’t we wait to do at the first available opportunity?

We asked members of Bremain in Spain what they were most looking forward to when lockdown ends – not just the big stuff, but the small stuff too.

Unsurprisingly, the ability to go places came high on the list, but it wasn’t foreign holidays that most yearned for – it was a walk on a local beach or in the countryside. In most cases, the company was as important as the destination – the opportunity to go out with the family, or take the dogs for a long walk, was high on everyone’s priority list.

After weeks of relying on home cooking, it was surprising how few mentioned going out for a slap-up meal. Although a few of us crave someone else’s menu for a change, most were more interested in enjoying a coffee, or perhaps a tapa or two, in their favourite local bar, and just watching the world go by.


Beach cafes across Spain are empty, like this one in San Sebastian. Photo: AFP 

A large part of the attraction of going out for a drink was, of course, the company. Living in Spain has made us a more sociable bunch. While we’ve all missed our friends, being apart from our extended families has been perhaps the hardest sacrifice of all.

Despite having spent so much time up close and personal with our families, we’re not in a hurry to distance ourselves from them – only from our homes. Our limited trips outdoors have been made alone. Now the idea of even a simple trip to the supermarket, with family in tow, has taken on new meaning.

A common theme was the idea of getting back to ‘normal’ – whatever normal might look like when this is all over – and a real appreciation of the simple pleasures in life. Of course, there’s a place for a little luxury in our lives and for treating ourselves, but taking pleasure in nature and the fresh air, for example, can be just as luxurious as a slap-up meal or a spa visit.

As we’ve had the opportunity to rethink what’s important to us, we’ve also considered what constitutes a necessity. Who knew, for example, that simple things like getting a haircut would feature so highly? Whilst there are probably a few new amateur barbers amongst us, I suspect many will soon be made redundant in favour of a return to the professionals!

If there’s one thing above all other that we’ve missed though, it’s physical contact. The Brits in Spain dropped handshaking, except in the most formal of situations, practically as soon as we got off the plane. We have adopted the Spanish custom of kissing both cheeks, with gusto. Even more so, we’ve embraced the hug, literally.

At a time when we’ve been forced to adopt social distancing measures for our own sake and others, I’m really looking forward to that first bear hug with my mum, my friends and just about anyone I meet! So be warned, whoever gets there first, you might just have to prize me away.

Besos y abrazos a todos!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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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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