ANALYSIS: Has the pandemic permanently changed the Spanish way of life?

It's been a year since the first coronavirus cases were reported in Spain and right now we can't be sure that life in Spain will ever return to the way it was, writes Graham Keeley.

ANALYSIS: Has the pandemic permanently changed the Spanish way of life?
Photos: AFP

What were you doing this time last year?

Remember those far off crazy days when we used to go to the pub or head to the beach without giving it half a thought?

It almost seems a blur now.

I was in Andorra on a skiing trip. Now I may be the proverbial giraffe on roller skates when it comes to skiing but the snow capped mountains looked good.

At that time, Covid-19 was a mystery disease from China which seemed to be edging closer to Europe day by day.

Then news came that coronavirus had finally arrived in Spain and tourists were confined at a hotel in the Canary Islands.

A newspaper asked me if I could travel there to do the story but I was stuck in the Pyrenees so had to say no.

Just a few weeks later, the curtain came down when the country announced a national lockdown on March 14th. It was scary and a little novel at the same time.

Step forward almost twelve months and we seem a world away from all that.

Our lives have changed – perhaps for a short time or perhaps forever?

In Spain, even in February, we would normally be out at lunch at a bar or a restaurant. After all, life is lived outside on the Mediterranean.

Right now, we can enjoy a semblance of that kind of life, but it is not quite the same.

The other night I met a friend for a drink but because of Covid-19 restrictions, we were forced to hang around outside a restaurant which could sell us a couple of beers. To anyone passing by, we probably looked like two guys with drinking problems. 

It feels so warm that it seems like spring has already arrived. So you find yourself yearning for the chiringuitos or beach bars to open up. They are such a part of Spanish life, especially in the summer.

But right now we can't be sure if these places will be able to open their doors. Even with the local trade, it is the tourists which keep them going in the summer.

Masks are compulsory in Spain so seeing someone without one, even for a short time, seems slightly alarming and odd now.

How about the way we have changed as people?

As almost all of us are stuck at home, if you don't know someone who has bought a puppy/small pet you are the odd one out now.

A man called at the door last night offering a puppy. It was not clear whether he had bought one and could not look after it or he was trying to sell it. I had to say no quickly before the children saw the pup and forced me to buy it as soon as possible.

Much as I would love to have a dog, I seem to have missed the ship (once again) and can only claim to have become a kind of Bird Man, feeding the ravenous starlings every day with the crumbs from my table. Ornithology was never my thing before all this. 

A friend took home a stray cat only to discover that she was pregnant  – the cat that is – and her flat has become a kind of menagerie, with two cats, a dog and kittens.

Others have taken up more virtuous pass times. Yoga, boxing, Pilates or karate are top of the list. I have got as far as cycling.

If you head out for a daily walk, you can spot the yoga addicts. Most of them are showing off how they can not only pull a perfect pose but they can photograph it at the same time.

Though many moan about how bored they are with life, some of us seem to have become quite fond of the way our lives have changed.

Home schooling seems more popular than the real thing among my sons. That may be because it gives them an excuse to study on a laptop all day (code for sneakily getting some screen time while their parents are too busy to notice).  It seems a little sad.

And remember heading off to the office for the commute? Who misses it? I used to spend two hours going back and forth on a bus into the city. And I paid to do it.

What was I thinking?

The curious thing about the way the pandemic has panned out in Spain is that unlike other European countries, there is not another total home lockdown.

So, we find ourselves running the gauntlet of the regulations and the police who mount the occasional road block. Right now, moving from one town to the next is out, as is going to play football or any other sporting venue. But that will change.

We have all hatched plans for what we are going to do when it is all over.

Seeing relatives, going on that Big Trip, or just hitting the pub.

Like other European countries, Spain's vaccination plan is lagging behind the stars of the show – Israel and Britain.

So, it may be a little longer before we step on that plane again. Meanwhile, stay safe.



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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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.