ANALYSIS: Why life in Spain won’t be easy until a Covid vaccine arrives

Life in Spain appears to be going from the 'new normal' to the sadly familiar, writes Graham Keeley in Barcelona.

ANALYSIS: Why life in Spain won't be easy until a Covid vaccine arrives
Photos: AFP

As I write this, authorities in Madrid are announcing more partial lockdowns which will mean a total of 1.2 million people – or about a sixth of the population of the entire region – will face restrictions on their daily life from next week.

The Spanish government has warned of “tough weeks ahead” for the people in the capital but so far have discounted advising a lockdown of the entire capital.

However, what is happening is by no means confined to Madrid.

As the second wave extends its grip over Spain, we are heading back to partial lockdowns elsewhere and more restrictions on our daily lives.

Now, the youngest are on the coronavirus front line. 

I met an eight-year-old this week who had had a PCR test. 'It wasn't very nice,” she complained in reference to the way they stick a swab up your nose.

In the end, she tested negative. Others have been less lucky.

The schools have only been back a few weeks, but classes are already getting sent home as odd pupils come down with COVID-19.

A friend who lives in Madrid has decamped to Avila in northern Spain after his children were sent home because someone in their classes had tested positive.

'That didn't last long,' he said, summing up his children's brief return to education. 

Anyone with children knows that each day they head off to learn about science or geography, they could be unlucky in the Covid-19 lottery.

Each parent accepts this risk, knowing that their children are probably better off at school. No doubt many know the schools could start closing any minute.



Lessons with masks on seem to be the norm in many schools but, surprisingly, most children seem to take it in their stride.

Away from the schools, workers are trickling back into offices –  reluctantly.

A friend of mine has been told she can work in the office but on a rota system to reduce contact with colleagues. She will do three days a week.

Some are jumping at the chance – perhaps eager to escape the pandemonium of home life if they have to juggle work with young children.

However, most people seem in no rush to get back. Everyone knows that infection levels are rising so why take the risks?

As the Spanish government passed what has been dubbed their 'teletrabajo' law this week, employers will have to pay the expenses of workers who want to work from home.

The law has a long way to work its way through parliament, but it could be groundbreaking in a country used to long lunches, long days and a culture of presenteeism.


Working from home: What we know about Spain's new 'teletrabajo decree'

It seems to have come at an important time when many more people are staying at home to work – at least until the infections fall dramatically.

Meanwhile, cast your minds back to the summer when lockdown came to an end in June.

Many people appear to have subconsciously assumed the worst of the pandemic was over. Bars, restaurants and beaches filled up. Well, it was summer after all.

The botellón – a kind of outdoor mass drinking session beloved of young people – returned with avengence.

We all started travelling, going out again. And catching Covid-19.

Now, as we find ourselves coping with the second wave which many experts always predicted, the blame game has started.

A series of public health experts have written an article in the medical journal The Lancet  published this week, saying Spain and Britain made the same mistakes.

Both countries came out of lockdown too early and did have enough track and trace teams to keep on top of outbreaks.

Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing.

People seem to be dealing with the current situation in different ways.

Some people, myself included, are reluctant to travel.

I have put off at least two work trips because though I need to go I don't have to go. So it is just not worth the risk of taking public transport.

It is frustrating, but there you go.

Others are taking what you might call calculated risks, being very careful if they have to travel or go out.

Of course, there are others who have no choice about the matter.

I have a friend who has to travel across Europe every fortnight.

When he arrives in the country where he works, he has to quarantine for a couple of weeks before he comes back to Spain.

Looking ahead, we are all wondering where this is going?

Public health experts have said that infection rates have levelled out in Spain.

That has got to be good news.

Spain's prime minister Pedro Sánchez was on television last weekend and ruled out a nationwide lockdown.

However, for those living in the areas of Madrid where lockdowns have been imposed, it has seemed bitterly unfair.

They feel segregated and marginalised because, they say, poor areas have been singled out, while wealthier areas remain free of restrictions – yet people are still free to travel across the city.

Last night there were clashes between police and demonstrators in Vallecas, one of the zones where restrictions have been imposed.

Others have denounced Covid-19 as a conspiracy and shunned wearing masks in public.

Authorities in Madrid banned another demonstration by these coronavirus- deniers which was planned for tomorrow.

With feelings running high, it is going to be a tough time until a vaccine arrives.



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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Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.