News ‘They should have warned us’: Living in locked-down Spain during coronavirus
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‘They should have warned us’: Living in locked-down Spain during coronavirus

Maria Andujar explains what it is like to be in Spain right now.
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Times Square is empty. The Champs-Élysées is quiet and London Bridge is all but bare.

The world’s major cities have fallen into a dull hum of only essential workers going about their business.

More than a third of the world’s population is under some form of social restrictions.

Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the virus, said this week it would start to ease restrictions, with some essential workers returning to work.

But everyone else must continue to remain at home.

Since March 14, Maria Andujar, 44, has left her apartment in Madrid only for quick trips to buy food.

The four weeks have trickled by.

“Lockdown means you can only get out if absolutely necessary, for example, to buy groceries,” she told The New Daily.

“The person that goes out must go alone. Fines are big for those who get caught.”

Mrs Andujar on her balcony in Madrid.

Spain has been badly hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

More than 17,500 people have died and the total number of cases has climbed past 169,400.

In front of the crematorium in Madrid’s sprawling La Almudena cemetery, drive-through funerals are being held.

The city’s morgues have buckled under the demand, and two ice rinks are being used to temporarily hold bodies.

Mrs Andujar, who works as a social researcher from the apartment she shares with her husband, said the government acted too late.

“Personally, I just think they should have acted earlier. They are taking the right measures, but they started too late,” she said.

“Spain is a very sociable country. [The] weather in February was May-like and we were all outdoors socialising … and happily spreading the virus. They should have foreseen this. They should have warned us.

“I think they underestimated what was coming.”

Madrid is known for its picturesque boulevards, afternoon tapas and vibrant culture, but the virus has drastically changed the city’s character.

“For many years I did not like Madrid: The constant hurry, the noise, the traffic, the stress … We are almost six million people,” Mrs Andujar said.

“It is a very lively, sociable city. Very few people have been born here. Most of us come from other regions and countries.

“All this liveliness is gone now.

“The streets are silent. There are no traffic jams, no noise, no hurry, no nothing. And I’m missing it.

“There is a sense of fear, of vulnerability.

“It is a total loss of control, like you do not manage your life any more.

“Also, we are used to social contact, so distancing ourselves from one another is hard because it is very unlike us.

“At the same time, the spirit of solidarity is everywhere.”

A hospital for COVID-19 patients, with 5500 beds, in Madrid. Photo: Getty

She said people were buying groceries, sewing masks, making medical equipment with 3D printers and giving blood. At 8pm every day, they clap from their windows for the frontline staff.

“This is Madrid, a city used to helping anyone for free, regardless of the cost,” Mrs Andujar said.

She and her husband are getting used to spending every minute with each other – in an environment where home is also the office, Pilates studio, cinema, kitchen and everything else in between.

“We are getting to know each other in a different environment after many years together,” she said.

“In the beginning we were both quite on edge, had some trouble figuring out when to work, when to stop, when to cook, who did what … everything was mixed up and quite the mess.

“It is challenging to be with the same person 24/7, no matter how much you love them. I need my alone time for my own personal balance.

“Luckily, my husband is one supportive, funny guy to be in lockdown with.”

But the hardest part has been not seeing her family.

“The worst part is the vulnerability you feel when people close to you get sick or die and you cannot be there for them,” Mrs Andujar said.

Mrs Andujar in her home office.

“I have a close aunt struggling with the virus right now.

“She lives in a different city, and there are people looking after her, but the fact that there is nothing you can do because going out and travelling is forbidden leaves you very frustrated and helpless.

“It is a lesson on letting go.

“We are fragile, not just now but all the time, and it is OK to learn to accept it.”

Mrs Andujar and her husband are learning to live inside – to be proactive with their work time and peaceful in their downtime.

Every day it is different, and the list of things they miss is long.

The first thing she wants to do when she gets out is, take a nice long walk in the park near her house.

Although most of the people of Madrid are locked inside their houses, they are in it together.

“What I love most about this city is its spirit of solidarity. In Spain, we say ‘nobody is from Madrid’, which means we all are,” she said.

“The moment you set foot here, you are part of Madrid, you belong to it.

“We have a very open spirit and the way this city has always reacted in times of great need and sorrow truly is something for the books.”