Covid BCN 04: reporting from the containment zone

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Day five and I’m considering hammering nails into the walls so I can physically as well as mentally climb them.

Yesterday, having donned both mask – a single-use one from Jordi since he gets them free from hospital (civilians can no longer acquire masks for love nor money) – and latex gloves – the latter from a glove pack I bought to keep the oil from my hands off my charcoal drawings – I leapt out the door, desperate for any excuse to savour the outdoors, however virus-laden it might be. I was hoping my organic veggies woman had turned up and so was thrilled to spot a Covid queue immediately. They are recognisable by the number of apparently unrelated, disparate individuals randomly scattered across an empty space like a 1980s grunge band LP cover. Proof the veggies woman was open for business.

I called out in my best Catalan, ‘Qui és l’últim?’ (who’s the last in line?), that particular rallying cry traditionally used in the markets since Catalan people are thoroughly queue-phobic (one of the reasons I love living here). It is serving them well in the Covid crisis, where linear order is a thing of the past. I was pointed to a solitary woman communing with her phone in the centre of the square over three metres distant from anyone else. I found my own suitably lonely spot and settled in to wait.

People not obviously standing in a queue outside the organic veggies pop-up shop
Spot the queue: A Covid queue in action, camouflaged within the urban landscape

Returning home with my basket of veges, I activated recently learnt glove-removing skills to avoid getting any icky virus on my hands or into the house. If you don’t know how to do this, here’s a good video on hygienically removing your latex gloves. I do love that accent!

At noon today there was a cacerolada, that popular protest when everyone comes out onto their balconies banging pots and pans until we’re all good and deaf. I couldn’t work out what it was protesting against and wondered if it was due to the sudden rise in cases in Spain. In the last 24 hours they have risen by over 2500, an 18% increase, bringing the total to just under 14,000. It should be borne in mind that people on the street are no longer being tested, only those in hospital, so the true figure is likely to be far higher. However, according to the director of the Health Emergency Coordination Centre, 18% is an increase similar to the day before, suggesting that the infection rate might be peaking, though it is still too early to say. Spain in total has 28 cases for every 100,000 residents. There are 774 people in Intensive Care (i.e. requiring ventilators), and 5717 hospitalised. Over a thousand people have now recovered.

The king of Spain is slated to speak at 9 pm tonight, and there is another initiative to hold a cacerolada while he speaks, as a protest against the alleged corruption and right-wing political stance of this head of state who is supposed to remain politically neutral. It is also to demand that the money his father, the king emeritus, salted away in tax havens for him is donated to the health authorities. Politics enters every facet of life here, and the Covid19 crisis is no exception. Apparently the 12-noon cacerolada was promoted by the king’s sympathisers so he wouldn’t be drowned out this evening.

Masks and gloves are also political. The Catalan health service is complaining that Madrid is intercepting orders of surgical masks destined for Catalan hospitals, while the mayor of Igualada, focus of Catalonia’s biggest outbreak, has officially complained that 4,000 masks destined for Igualada Hospital have been held up in Madrid. Madrid claims it is “redistributing” material throughout Spain, but the Catalan Health minister is saying this is creating unnecessarily long bureaucratic delays. A Zaragoza company has been caught holding a secret auction of surgical masks.

My income this month has shrunk to a pale vestige of itself, minus 15% tax retained at source and monthly Social Security payments that do not shrink regardless of my income. So I am now officially paying out good money to be self-employed here in Spain. Most other self-employed people here are in the same boat, but then nothing has changed in that regard since the days of Felipe – and I don’t mean Gonzalez but the one who built the Escorial palace.

What we really need now is a sudden burst of early hot summer weather to take the temperature above 27ºC, which it is reported would kill off the virus. Come on Global Warming, we’ve been investing in you for almost two centuries – time to do your thing!

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About Kevin Booth

Kevin Booth pens contemporary and LGBT-themed fiction, often about Barcelona and its history, such as his first novel, Celia’s Room. He also writes about the city’s art and architecture in the BCN Free Art guides. As K. Eastkott he has created the ‘Jewel Fish Chronicles’, an environmentally focussed ocean fantasy exploring non-Eurocentric worlds. He combines writing with work as a translator and editor, while operating as a micro-publisher for other authors. View all posts by Kevin Booth

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