Catalunya square is empty, the streets are empty, the police are stopping anyone walking in twos. Spain is in lockdown and UniSA alumna, Clare Kinloch, describes what life is like stuck indoors in Barcelona during this growing COVID-19 crisis. (Image source: David Ramos/The Guardian)
By Nikita Skuse | @nikita_skuse
At 7am each morning, Clare Kinloch wanders out on to the tiny balcony of her flat to catch the only bit of sunlight she’ll feel on her skin for the day. That is, unless she has the luxury of needing to go out to get something from the supermarket or pharmacy. She’s lucky enough to have three balconies, but none of them see sun apart from this fleeting moment.
She cannot go outside to stretch her legs or go on her usual stroll up Montjuic, one of Barcelona’s rare patches of greenery, unless she has a dog to walk. She jokes that she’s tempted to steal one just for the excuse. This has been life in Spain since March 14 and will continue until April 11, although whispered rumours among locals say this lockdown may be drawn-out further by the government.
Clare is an ex-Adelaidean and UniSA alumna who moved to Barcelona in September 2018 to be with her partner, Javi.
She works in communications and is currently helping a company back in Adelaide set up a communications plan for COVID-19, hence the early morning starts to keep in contact between time-zones that allow her to catch those brief moments of sunshine.
To date, Clare’s new home of Spain has over 60,000 cases of COVID-19. Over 9000 people have recovered, but the death toll has almost reached 5000. This ranks the country fourth in the world for number of cases of the virus, and second in the world for number of virus-related deaths.
Like many people, Clare never imagined her new hometown would take a hit like this.
“I just must be thick as bricks but it didn’t occur to me that this was coming, it really didn’t,” she said.
“Of course, the virus would spread but I didn’t think the kind of lockdown situation that was happening in China would happen here.
“Even when it happened in Italy, I didn’t think it was coming here.”
However, Clare feels the Spanish government has not been “super clear” about the situation.
She said, “I went to the International Women’s Day march on 8 March here with more than 200,000 other people.”
“They let that much go ahead … the same week they locked us all up.”
Being locked up for such a long period of time is harder than you’d think in many European countries. Spanish homes are not large in size. Most Spaniards live in small flats in the cities, spending much of their time out and about, socialising in bars from 10am onwards and living a lot of daily life on the streets, Clare said.
“I don’t know whether the spaces are small because Spanish people live a different style of life or Spanish people live a different style of life because their spaces are small,” she said.
Whatever the order, millions of people across Spain are stuck inside places considerably smaller than the average Australian home. While many Australians are complaining about having to be socially distant in their large homes with gardens, lawns and outdoor entertaining areas, Europeans are locked in shoebox apartments. The four walls of Clare’s flat are definitely starting to get the better of her.
“I have to say, it’s driving me bananas,” she said.
“I’m really suffering, and I know everybody is suffering so I’ve got to keep reminding myself that this is not about me, but I think I would 100 per cent prefer to be locked down somewhere in Australia with a garden.
“I think most Australians still are lucky enough to have a bit of green space, a bit of lawn or a veranda, just that kind of private open space which I think is really important.”
In an attempt to keep her sanity, Clare convinced her partner Javi to take a short, ten-minute walk with her outside, just to experience the outdoors again. No more than a few minutes into their walk, the pair were stopped by police and made to go home, extremely lucky not to receive a sizeable fine. This kind of policing is now the norm throughout Spain.
Clare said police are strict about people being outside. They’re stopping anyone they see walking in twos, as that looks like socialising, which is not allowed. To prove they’re outside for an essential reason, people must have shopping bags or receipts.
“It is kind of hard when you’re under stress to forgo those things (walking, jogging, bike riding etc.) because they’re the normal ways we keep ourselves calm,” Clare said.
“I mean, you can kind of justify it when you’re not thinking about the 46 million other people in the country who are locked down, you can sort of think, ‘Oh I’m just going out on my bike, I won’t see anyone’.
“I think people kind of understand that the police are doing their job, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Those trying to seek refuge outside of the major cities have not had much luck either.
“I know that in Madrid, for example, where there’s been worse infection rates than here in Barcelona, families were trying to leave with their cars and their kids to go and stay in their second houses in the country because they’d have more space and they’d be further away,” Clare said.
“Imagine being locked up in a flat with kids, like a tiny flat, for days on end.
“And the police were stopping and fining them, sending them home.
“That’s been on the news a lot, police road blocks.”
On a slightly more positive note, many Australians will be happy to know there is still food in the supermarkets, and plenty of it, despite the lockdown.
“I don’t know that it’s been quite the same here as in Australia, which I found really interesting and I don’t know what that says about Australians,” Clare said.
“People are making jokes about toilet paper here but it’s not been like the level in Australia.
“One time when I went to the supermarket before we were locked down and there was no toilet paper, no natural yogurt, and no eggs … but the next time I was in the shop they were there, so there were little panics happening but I don’t think it was as bad.”
As for the effect on her mental health, Clare said this lockdown has been much harder to cope with than she could have imagined. She said even as a self-proclaimed introvert, the time in isolation has been very difficult.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about prisoners,” Clare said.
“I’m super lucky of course, I’m not a prisoner, I have freedom to move around my apartment and I can even go to the chemist, woo!
“But there’s a reason why prison is a punishment.
“There’s a reason why that is a way society worked out how to punish people when they did wrong.
“It’s very unsettling.”
Clare’s advice to Australians during this crisis is simple: take it seriously.
“It didn’t seem real to me until it was real,” she said.
“I’m someone who loves reading and loves being by myself and I’m finding this super, super hard so don’t underestimate it.”
Her other advice is to get out of your house and exercise while you can (just not in groups), to try and keep life as normal as possible for as long as possible and to always keep looking after each other.
“I really don’t know if it will have to get the same in Australia,” she said.
“I really hope it doesn’t.”