Life in Barcelona: ‘Residents fear a second lockdown more than a second wave’

Barcelona hasn't returned to a full lockdown but residents have been advised to ‘stay at home’. Barcelona-based journalist Esme Fox explains what life is like as fears persist about a second-wave and yet more restrictions on daily life.

Life in Barcelona: 'Residents fear a second lockdown more than a second wave'
People sit at a terrace bar overlooking the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona on July 25, 2020. AFP

Covid-19 cases in the Metropolitan area of Barcelona, including in the city itself, have been increasing over the last few weeks, causing major concern and a reintroduction of restrictions.

The local Catalan government has advised people not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary and to stay within the city limits in bid to curb the latest outbreaks, however fines cannot be issued for going outside without a valid reason like before, and authorities are appealing to people’s social responsibility. 

Masks have been mandatory in the whole of Catalonia since July 9th, but many people had been wearing them long before that.

The difference now however is that masks must be worn everywhere, even outside where social distancing is possible. The only reasons you can remove them are for eating and drinking, exercising, sunbathing and swimming.

But masks are not the only things that have changed in the city, the lack of tourists is also strongly felt. La Rambla now feels like any other street, you can stand in front of the cathedral and take a picture without any other people and the famous market, La Boqueria, is almost empty. 

Shops, bars and restaurants remain open; however, dining venues have been reduced to 50 percent capacity once again and only meetings of up to 10 people are allowed.

People sit on the stairs of the National Art Museum of Barcelona (MNAC) in Barcelona on July 25, 2020. The Catalan government ordered the closure of all nightclubs, discos and event halls across this region of northeastern Spain following a surge in cases of coronavirus.AFP

On July 18th, all public cultural and sporting venues were closed, meaning that cinemas, gyms, sports facilities and nightclubs had to be shut down again, just little more than a month after they reopened. 

While some restrictions have now loosened, and gyms and cinemas can re-open, nightclubs remain closed. Despite the ‘stay at home’ request from the local government, most locals are ignoring the advice and continue to eat out in bars and restaurants and flock to the beaches.

In the stifling summer heat, these are some of the only places you can escape outdoors and not have to wear a mask.

Beach capacity in the city has recently been reduced by 15 percent, and on weekends people are often turned away when it’s too full or are required to queue until others leave. 

As of July 29th, even more restrictions have been brought into place. There is also now also a two-week ban on drinking alcohol in public places, which in Spain is known as ‘botellón’.

This means no more drinking on the beaches or in the parks. Many of the new outbreaks in the region have stemmed from parties and social gatherings and authorities are hoping this new ban will help to curb new infections. Fines ranging from 3,001 to 15,000 Euros can be issued to anyone breaking the rules. 

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

On Monday, July 27th, Quim Torra, president of Catalonia asked citizens to act with ‘responsibility’ in order to avoid a more extreme lockdown. 

“The 10 most important days of the summer lie ahead of us now”, he said. We have 10 days to see if, with a renewed collective effort, we can start turning things around. Because if we don’t, we’ll have to take a step backwards”. 

While locals don’t seem to have followed his advice so far, without as many tourists in the city, social distancing is easier – bars and restaurants in the centre are not so crowded and there’s space on the beach during weekdays.

People here fear the virus, but there seems to be an even greater fear of a second lockdown. Across Spain, people were confined to their homes, not even being allowed out for a walk in more two months, and most people are terrified of having to go through that again.

It seems that most people just want to able to enjoy the outdoors as much as they can, in case a new mandatory lockdown is put in place. 

Recent figures released on July 30th, however, do suggest that the spread of the virus in Barcelona is slowing down and that the restrictions and social distancing measures may just be working. Even so, locals can’t let their guard down just yet. 


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How Barcelona is once again Spain’s pickpocket capital

The theft of a rucksack caught on camera during a TV interview has put the focus on the problem of thievery in the Catalan capital, a trend which has returned in full blast following the end of Covid-19 restrictions. 

How Barcelona is once again Spain's pickpocket capital

Anyone who’s visited or lived in Barcelona knows how important it is to keep an eye on one’s belongings, especially while on public transport or in the city centre. 

The metropolis of 5.6 million people is particularly notorious for being the pickpocketing capital of Spain.

Barcelona is in many senses a victim of its own popularity, with a study in July 2022 crowning it the most visited city in Europe this summer. 

One of the consequences of this is that Barcelona has become a goldmine for low-level criminals who not only exploit the abundance of distracted tourists exploring the city’s beautiful sights, but also the fact that Spanish law allows them to steal goods worth less than €400 and not face a prison sentence if caught.

The issue was encapsulated in near-scripted style when during a recent TV interview in which a tourist was singing the praises of the Catalan capital, a thief is seen in the background picking up a rucksack and walking away with it.

Between January and June of 2022, 36,386 hurtos took place in Barcelona, according to the Spanish government’s latest Crime Report

The word hurto in Spanish encompasses different non-violent forms of stealing other people’s property, from pickpocketing to stealing from shops or burglaries. 

This equates to 200 reported non-violent robberies a day in Barcelona.  

During the first three months of 2022, Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra wished to stress that the 17,000 non-violent robberies committed in Barcelona were “far” from the levels seen in 2019, before the pandemic’s lockdown as well as domestic and travel restrictions which resulted in fewer locals and tourists whom to rob in 2020 and 2021. 

They did however acknowledge that the data suggested that there was a return to “normality” vis-a-vis such felonies. 

As things stand, the 36,386 non-violent robberies recorded in the first half of 2022 are far lower than the 67,637 that were reported during the first six months of 2019, a record year for crime in the Catalan capital, as hurtos shot up by 40 percent compared to 2018 figures. 

But the rise has been even sharper in 2022, with a spike of 79.2 percent in the number of non-violent robberies during the first half of the year. When data for July and August is included in the next report, the increase could be even more dramatic.

Worryingly, the rate of violent crimes has also shot up by 41 percent. There have been reports in the Catalan press and videos shared online showing how organised gangs are now focusing on stealing jewellery and luxury watches from passers-by, violently yanking the items off the victims in broad daylight. 

As for burglaries, Barcelona is not the city with the highest rate of break-ins in Spain in 2022, according to Spanish insurance company Estamos Seguros, but it is the city where the value of the items stolen by burglars is on average highest. 

Pickpocketing remains the most common form of non-violent robbery in the Catalan capital however, with reoffending criminals unfazed by being apprehended by police. 

READ ALSO: How a crime wave in Barcelona is turning residents into citizen crime fighters

A change to Spain’s Criminal Code implemented in July 2022 which will see reoffending thieves who steal goods worth less than €400 stand before a judge may help quash such impunity.

It’s worth noting that non-violent robberies have increased by 51 percent on average across Spain in 2022, but Barcelona once again stands out as the city where pickpocketing and other forms of stealing is rife, higher than in other big cities such as Madrid and Valencia where non-violent theft is also an issue.