Coronavirus in Spain: Our first day out as a family since lockdown was eased

As Spain's government loosened lockdown restrictions for children for the first time in six weeks, Barcelona-based journalist Graham Keeley talks about his own experiences on this first day of 'freedom' for families.

Coronavirus in Spain: Our first day out as a family since lockdown was eased
Graham Keeley with his family outside their home before their first walk in six weeks.. Photos: Graham Keeley

Blinking into the bright spring sunshine like creatures who had not seen daylight for ages, we took our first tentative steps back into the real world.

Or should that be the surreal world.

For life was nothing like the last time we had emerged from our house six weeks ago.

Take the way we were dressed for a start. All masked up and nowhere to go.

Still, it was our first day of relative freedom and we were going to cherish it.

Children were allowed back on to the streets for the first time since Spain imposed one of the most drastic lockdowns in the world on March 14th.

Of course, this was not supposed to be some Pied Piper-style rush of millions of children back into the streets.

The Spanish government said only children aged up to 14 could go out between 9am and 9pm and they must be accompanied by just one adult.

Therefore, we had to split up the family when we left the house in order to comply with the governments regulations. 

So, despite spending six weeks together,  I went off with  our eldest, while my wife stayed with the twins. 

Under the regulations, playgrounds or sports areas were strictly out of bounds. Walks were permitted for up to one hour from 1km from their homes. Thankfully, scooters, bikes and other toys could be taken out.

READ MORE: What you need to know about Spain's new rules for taking children outside during lockdown

We decided we were not taking any chance so rather self-consciously donned protective masks.

However, despite the warnings from the government that wearing a mask would be advisable but not obligatory, we appeared to be the odd ones out.

Most children seemed to be wandering around as if nothing had happened in the past two months.

No masks and the odd parent chatting with friends at very close quarters.

It was, perhaps, only to be expected after so long cooped up.

Living near the sea meant our first stop had to be the beach, of course. Suddenly, something you almost take for granted felt very precious.

On the short walk to the waves, the striking thing was how nature had had a field day since our last meeting six weeks ago.

The grass had gone mad and grown as tall as our knees.

Heavy rain over the past few days meant the path was flooded but our three boys took delight in the simple pleasure of wading through the water, something they had not done since they were toddlers.

The beach was sealed off with a police cordon but this was ignored by many parents of small children.

It might be easy to condemn these parents as irresponsible but having been there myself when the boys were younger, I knew they must have had a tough time during the lockdown.

Friends were spotted at a distance and wary hellos exchanged but no-one wanted to get too close.

Keen to avoid the arrival of the hordes to the beach, we snook off to a country path. This meant crossing a motorway bridge. Below the normally roaring road was silent. A lovely sight.

Up above, the skies were tranquil as the planes were still. Another plus at a time of many minuses with so many dying.

As we passed by farm fields, it was obvious to see that nature had gone wild.

A playground was totally waterlogged because of the rain. Crops lay underwater and a field of potatoes had not been touched.

When we came across the occasional human beings we stopped to let them pass keeping a wary distance.

It tended to be parents with smaller children who made their offspring wear masks.

It has to be said that on a warm day, these masks are uncomfortable things. It made me think of doctors and nurses who must put up with these things while they work long days on the wards.

As we headed for home, we were tempted to go for a coffee and a croissant at our local bakery-café, normally a popular meeting place with its outside tables bustling with customers. Now, it's only offering a take away service as all such establishments have been shut down. 

Then we weighed up the risk. The staff in the cafe were well protected but the customers breezed in without masks and gloves. Was it worth it? Probably not.

The family back at home after their walk. 

So our first outing was a pleasant novelty. But for our three boys, the days of seeing friends, playing football or even going for a swim in the sea still seem a long way off.

Lockdown has not been such a hardship for them; their school has kept them busy and a small garden and a trampoline preserved their parents sanity. Children get used to these things.

But they are beginning to hope they may be able to go on holiday and even see friends again face to face instead of through a screen.

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, has said from May 2, adults may be allowed out to practice sport or for walks on their own if the rate of infection and fatalities continues to decline.

It could be the start of the way back to normal life.

However, it looks like our wary world is a fixture for now.



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




This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the family separated in order to take their walk as per government instructions. 



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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.