How life in Spain has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic

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How life in Spain has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic
Life in Spain feels different. AFP

While the coronavirus epidemic in Spain is largely under control it has left its mark on the country and its social culture, writes Graham Keeley. Although perhaps foreigners and Spaniards will see the changes differently?


Days before the lockdown in March, we had the luck of seeing Bill Bailey. 

If you don't know him, you should: a comic of understated genius in my humble opinion. 

One of his gags sticks in my mind just now. 

He was telling us that he hails from a part of the English countryside so backward that people point when they see planes. 

Three months later, I have become one of those people; when two planes flew over the other day, I found myself gawking at them. 


It made me think how many subtle changes we may notice as the world returns to some kind of normality. 

Apart from the lovely lack of planes in the sky and hearing the birds in the morning, anyone arriving in Spain right now will be struck by another absence: tourists. 

Of course, since last weekend, there has been a steady trickle. But the normal summer avalanche has not started – and may not until later on in the season. 


The results are obvious. 

Take Barcelona for starters. Usually, by this point in the summer, you can hardly walk along the streets for the gangs of holidaymakers.

Not so now. 

Anyone working in the tourist industry must be desperate for the usual suspects to arrive so they can earn a living and who can blame them. But for the rest of us, it is quite pleasant. 

There is another reason for this of course. Just as Spain edges out of what we hope was the worse of the epidemic, the arrival of thousands of tourists risks wasting all that sacrifice during months of lockdown. 

Put more simply, we do not want coronavirus imported to Spain, even if by accident. 

Few tourists visit the usually crowded old city of Cordoba on March 14, 2020.AFP

All this comes to mind right now as the Spanish government passed legislation on Thursday to define what is the 'new normality'. 

This bill consists of a plethora of measures by which we must live our lives here. 

I wonder if what you notice about this new world depends on whether you view Spain with foreign eyes or those of a Spaniard? 

Maybe Spaniards will miss the kissing and hugging which feel so normal in this tactile country?

To us reticent north Europeans, holding off the kissing will seem almost normal. 


Whatever, perhaps the most important change is how we socialise.

All the foreign residents I know have been avoiding restaurants or bars. Most of these places are packed, many people do not wear masks and they seem potentially pretty dangerous. 

So, it seems most foreigners are only meeting among friends, with quiet dinners at each others' friends. 

So far, I have been to a restaurant twice and - hands up– it felt like a very guilty pleasure. Everyone was wearing masks, cleaning their hands in gel. 

The beaches are often crowded, so the only safe way to enjoy them is to go when there are not so many people there. 

So if you hit the beach before 11am, it is cool enough and empty enough to guarantee there is less chance of catching something you don't want to. 

People sit at a terrace bar near the Sagrada Familia on 25 May, 2020 in Barcelona. AFP

Equally, if you go to a restaurant before 2pm – the dining hour – you are more likely to find enough space to be safe. 

We are all socialising within the limits of Covid-19. Or that is how it seems. 

Judging from scenes on some beaches, restaurants, bars – it seems the memories of the lockdown are short. I have seen large groups of people mixing on the beaches.

Of course you imagine they are all friends who know they have all isolated safely over the past few months. But a series of outbreaks have been blamed on parties just like these. 

Spain's health officials have said these isolated cases are under control but did say that as people start to travel around again, this was the moment to be careful. 

The next step is the return to work. Already people are going into offices, if only briefly. 

You wonder if this is really necessary. 

Part of me thinks that the whole office culture may be a thing of the past. But, obviously, there are many who will not be able to avoid the workplace forever.  Not everyone can work from a laptop. 

Another change which is discernible is in the 'holiday culture'. In more normal times, we would be gearing up for that annual break somewhere nice. 

Instead, many people are changing their plans or having them changed for them as holiday companies cancel trips booked long ago. 

Reluctantly, I think I may have to delay plans to travel to Scotland. With Britain still locked down, flights to the UK and simply getting around the place look more of an effort than fun. Infection rates are still prohibitively high too.

I imagine those with second homes in Spain may be thinking the other way round; Spain appears to have the coronavirus under more control than the UK so grabbing a bit of sun seems pretty attractive. 

When they arrive here it could be something of a shock. 

Things may not be very different to what they left behind.


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