OPINION: Why we’ll remember lockdown in rural Spain a little more fondly than most

For Heath Savage, who moved to rural Galicia from the Sydney suburbs, Spain's coronavirus lockdown has one obvious silver lining.

OPINION: Why we'll remember lockdown in rural Spain a little more fondly than most
An empty street in Santiago de Compostela. Photo: AFP

We hosted a few Workaway volunteers when we first arrived eighteen months ago, and I wrote about it back then in The Local. Workaway is wonderful way for people to travel and see the world, and a real boon for hosts.

Before the pandemic, we invited a volunteer from Czech Republic, who worked with us for a week in November, to return to us in March. Originally, it was to house-sit, while we travelled to the UK to attend a family wedding, which has now been postponed due to the lock-down.

He was volunteering up in the mountains, herding goats, and, because of tightening travel restrictions, asked us if he could come earlier than previously arranged.

He lives in his converted VW van between jobs and Workaway stints, which is not easy to do at present, so we agreed, knowing that it might be many weeks before he was able to travel again. We really needed the help in the garden, so, it was win-win.

He has been with us now for five weeks, and he has worked very hard to get our garden and small orchard into good shape for summer. He is performing heavy work: digging, gravelling and landscaping, that is beyond my strength, and he has also been renovating our nasty, dusty, ramshackle shed.

We had a great idea, to re-use old windows from our house renovation, and replace the existing, rotted window. We also cut out a section of the wall, and added a new window at the front of the shed, which now captures the sunlight and brightens the interior.

I am excited! Finally, my own little haven down in the garden; a place where I can potter, and sit in the sun after tending the raised beds. A filthy, dank storage unit, is transforming into somewhere I can boil a kettle, listen to the radio, and put my feet up – like I really need to do more of that!

Having a house guest for five weeks has been…different. We are used to life as a duo. Now we are a trio – an octet if you count our three pets, and the neighbours two dogs, who have moved into our alpendre for the duration!

Lock-down tension isn’t too much of an issue for us, because we are blessed with a large outdoor space, as well as an enclosed garden terrace with a view of the village.

Neighbours who live in our aldea (the Galician term for a hamlet) pass by the house each day, and we chat as usual, so we don’t suffer the cabin fever that is afflicting those stuck in apartments in cities.

But I have noticed that my partner seems to need to be under my feet in the kitchen just at the wrong moment. I, of course, have no annoying traits, and am never grumpy.

It has taken a bit of organization and some “freezer diving” to provide three decent meals each day for us and a worker, without stretching the budget too far. He has the upstairs to himself, I have my kitchen, and my partner has her study, so we aren’t exactly tripping over each other. This is a symbiotic relationship that has worked well. Now he is moving on, to help out a friend of ours in another village, who lives alone.

Maybe it is clutching at straws to seek silver linings, but I have enjoyed being able to offer someone safe harbour, and he has reciprocated by bothering to get to know us and slide into our ways, in addition to gifting us his hard work.

Perhaps this arrangement wouldn’t suit everyone, but it has worked for us, and changed the very nature of our lock-down experience. When we say “adios” next week, and our neighbour comes to collect his dogs, we will return to our usual routine.

I think we will all enjoy the change, and I think we will all remember this strange and scary time a little more fondly than perhaps we would have if we had not all been marooned together in Panton.

Follow the adventures of Heath in Galicia and read through her previous columns. 



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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.