Less social life but grateful: How Spaniards are suffering less pandemic fatigue than others

A surprisingly high number of Spaniards don’t feel that the pandemic has had a major impact on their lives and they're among the Europeans who are most "hopeful" about the future, several national and international studies reveal.

Less social life but grateful: How Spaniards are suffering less pandemic fatigue than others
Two couples dressed in Madrid's traditional "chulapa" and "chulapo" attires dance during San Isidro Day in the capital, on May 15th 2021. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Almost half of Spaniards say they feel the pandemic has only affected them “a bit” (28.9 percent) or “not at all or almost not at all” (20.6 percent). 

This is one of the standout findings of a survey carried out by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) looking into the consequences of Covid-19 on the Spanish population’s state of mind. 

The most common negative effects the health crisis has had on the lives of those surveyed were on their relationships and lifestyle, work as well as health and healthcare matters, less so on the economy or their feelings.

However, around 14 percent of people interviewed by CIS said they’d felt more loneliness, sadness, fear, isolation, worry or sorrow over the loss of loved ones.

The main changes to people’s lifestyle were the “reduction, avoidance or limitation” of social life and to a lesser extent outings, activities and travel. 

But most of the more than 3,000 people surveyed say that the pandemic has made them “value other things”, such as what they already have in life, including their family and their health. They’ve also learned to “adopt more cautious habits” and “be more aware of the fragility of life”.

SPAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS-SMOKINGA group of friends enjoy some beers in the Andalusian city of Seville in August 2020. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Asked about the national and regional government’s handling of the pandemic, 55.8 percent of those surveyed said the authorities should “have taken stricter measures than those taken”, whilst 29.9 percent said the measures have been “adequate”.

CIS’s study also found that around one in ten people surveyed had had Covid-19 and that 85 percent knew someone who had been infected. 

Overall it may seem surprising that Spaniards’ concerns are more centred on their social life and relationships even though the pandemic has caused more than 80,000 deaths in Spain and the loss of 622,600 jobs in 2020.

But perhaps it’s this more light-hearted approach to life that explains why another recent study by international market research company IPSOS found that Spaniards and Italians are the countries which are suffering less from “‘pandemic fatigue”.

This concept has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the feeling of demotivation, fatigue, uncertainty and / or anxiety that affects the population due to the global health crisis and restrictions.

IPSOS found that “pandemic fatigue” is most common in Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, whereas in Italy and Spain the majority of people feel “more hopeful” (78 and 75 percent respectively) about making future plans than with a sense of “monotony”.

IPSOS also revealed that Spaniards were the least worried of all nationalities when it comes to eating and drinking at bars and restaurants during the pandemic (38 percent). Spain’s hospitality sector is still subject to restrictions (varying depending on the regions) but compared to other European countries, bars and restaurants have not been completely shut for such long periods. 

Another study carried out by Imperial College London in June 2021 found that Spain is the fourth country where citizens have the most trust in the Covid-19 vaccines available to them (78 percent), behind the United Kingdom (87 percent), Israel (83 percent) and Italy (81 percent).

Despite this optimism, IPSOS also found that Spaniards are the “Europeans who think that things in their country are out of control” the most, (48 percent in June, whereas in January it was 86 percent). 

This ties in closely to the discontent with the government’s handling of the pandemic in the CIS study, and the historical distrust in public institutions among Spaniards.


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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.