Coronavirus in Spain: Workers might be glad to be back, but many are deeply worried

As lockdown lifts this week for some workers, Barcelona-based journalist Graham Keeley considers the worries Spain has for its economy.

Coronavirus in Spain: Workers might be glad to be back, but many are deeply worried
A labourer returns to work on the renovation project of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. Photo: AFP

Spain eased its lockdown this week. Or at least that is how the outside world saw it.

In fact, what happened was things went back to how they were just over two weeks ago before we went into what has been called 'economic hibernation' – everyone staying inside except essential workers.

So from this week,  workers in construction and manufacturing could return to work, in order to free up two vital sectors of the economy.  But the lockdown remained for the vast majority of us. Remember we cannot go for strolls and children are confined to the house. 

Speaking to those who were going back, I found mixed feelings about this. Almost all were worried about contracting coronavirus, of course.


Yet, at the same time, many were relieved to be getting out of the house after a month being confined at home. For others, it was crucial that they returned to work or the business would most likely go to the wall.

For the rest of us, there was the concern that this cautious opening up of the economy might result in a rise in cases, thereby wasting the efforts of 47 million Spaniards who had largely obeyed the lockdown.

However, an epidemiologist I spoke to put the government's gamble into context, saying when it took this decision it had to weigh up immediate health priorities as well as the effects on the economy.

“There are a number of people who may die not from the virus but from poverty,” he said.

It made me think.

At the back of everyone's minds in Spain is the prospect of what comes next once we are allowed out.

The IMF's prediction is Spain's GDP will fall 8 percent and unemployment will rise from 14 percent to 20 percent. Most people expect it to be higher.

And then there is the prospect of a resurgence of the virus. According to experts, during the Spanish flu after the First World War, secondary waves of the flu were best contained in places where the politicians acted together as a united force.

A quick glance at the political squabbling in Spain this week – where Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, and Pablo Casado, the leader of the opposition cannot even agree when to meet – and I do not hold out much hope that this is likely. Spain is too polarized a society.

On a more positive side, we seem to have settled into a lockdown routine. We discovered a television series which has become a daily ritual for all the family. (Remember when you used to watch TV with your parents?).

And the prospect of the boys not returning to school until September has become a reality after the education secretary said sending the children back earlier would not be a good idea.

Our boys might be pleased at hearing this news, but pray for us parents.

This is an excerpt from the latest in our series 'Coronavirus around Europe' in which our journalists describe the situation in the country they are in and look ahead to what might come next.



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .

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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.