Tag Archives: lockdown

Covid BCN 06: virus versus hubris

Sunday, 22 March 2020

I woke up grumpy this morning, wanting to go to the pool or for a bike ride, and angry at the incompetents who by their ineptitude have ensured our confinement will last closer to three months than three weeks. We’re in the ninth day of this damn lockdown, the ninth day I haven’t been able to get to my pool or on my bike and ride up the mountain. Yes, unlike Belgium and France, in their infinite wisdom our noble rulers have banned any form of exercise outside the home, even in situations where you are exercising solo, your feet never touch the ground and you remain at least fifty metres from any other living being at all times. We are expected simply to endure with little thought for the logistics of how the goal might be achieved while still ensuring our sanity.

The ninth day of lockdown, knowing this is likely to last for months and we haven’t nearly approached the peak yet. A lot of people still have to die before this is over. New Zealand will no doubt be locked down for about three weeks and sort it quickly. But thanks to those in charge, Spain is more likely to be locked down from here to eternity. And this morning as if on cue, it was declared that Spain’s lockdown will be extended by a further 15 days.

Why am I not surprised? The Catalan first minister, Torra, has repeatedly asked for Catalonia to be sealed off. He has asked Sánchez to stop cleaning airports and start closing them. His plea has fallen on deaf ears, as did the plea to properly seal off Madrid. From the Spanish point of view, the fears about closing off Catalonia are that those borders may never open again and Catalonia may become de facto independent as a result of the crisis. Hmmm, maybe we should have a referendum on that?

Below, I give the grim statistics, but before that, let’s stay positive (yes, up till now this has been positive – hadn’t you noticed?) and talk about keeping ourselves in shape during the lockdown.

Day nine and my affirmations are to start playing more music and doing exercise on a regular basis. This morning my body was screaming out for stretches and a proper workout, so to Velvet Velsen’s beats, I finally kicked my lazy arse into some semblance of a half-hearted routine. Reader, I exercised! I’ll do another short session this evening, turning it into a twice-daily habit – at least that’s the plan.

If exercise is difficult for you (as it is for me), break it up. Do half an hour in the morning and the same in the evening. Or even just ten minutes, go and do something else, then do another ten minutes and so on. I have a friend who works at home and has installed a lifting bar in his kitchen doorway, so that every time he goes to the kitchen for something (which us work-at-homers tend to do several times an hour), he does a few pull-ups to give the trip the patina of a virtuous goal. Otherwise, pick a spot in your house that you pass through several times a day and set yourself an exercise task to do every time you pass that spot: for example, five push-ups, some leg stretches, or ten star jumps. Keep it brief and easy but frequent.

Okay, here are the grim statistics* for those interested:

In the last 24 hours, 394 more deaths in Spain and 3,600 new cases. So officially, 28,572 cases and 1,720 deaths in all. Bear in mind that testing is only being carried out in hospitals so this doesn’t include people catching it on the street and self-isolating. Therefore the real figures are bound to be far higher.

This is a 15% increase in cases compared to Saturday. If true, it means the increase statistic is beginning to peak: 20%, 18%, 18%, 15% … (Or are they just testing less?) My friend working at a hospital tells me not to trust the statistics as they are being whitewashed. For example, a recent figure claimed that 57% of cases were in Barcelona and Madrid, whereas it breaks down into 47% of cases in Madrid and 10% in Barcelona, but this was part of an effort to conceal Madrid’s poor management of the crisis. Where infections have jumped is in the community of Castilla-La Mancha, probably from Madrid residents heading out of town to “escape” the virus.

Deaths have increased by 30%, half of them in the community of Madrid, and the rate of deaths is not levelling off. Madrid, still the main focus in Spain, now has over 1000 coronavirus deaths, with almost 10,000 officially infected. Its health system has collapsed. Two hospitals in the community, the Príncipe de Asturias in Alcalá d’Henares and the Severo Ochoa in Leganés, have asked for patients to be diverted to other centres because their emergency services can no longer cope.

In Catalonia, official infections increased by around 500, with 69 more deaths.

“The worst is still to come and we must prepare”

The experts are not optimistic. Seventy scientists from all around Spain have requested that everybody is confined to home to avoid collapse of the health system. They also demand – as Torra has repeatedly requested for Catalonia – that the worst-hit areas are totally sealed off. These include Madrid, Catalonia, Castella i Lleó, Castella-la Manxa, la Rioja, the Basque Country and Navarra.

Spain’s prime minister summed it up: “The worst is still to come and we must prepare”. Yeah right, like we didn’t know that already.

First layer of an oil painting of a reclining male nude
“Manchando la tela” (“staining the canvas”) of a new oil painting – channelling my frustrations away from politics and into art

I swear for the duration of this crisis and to preserve my sanity, I will henceforth leave politics alone and focus on pastoral pursuits such as painting and writing.

* The statistics in this article were drawn from CCRTV’s 3/24 news channel on 22/03/2020.

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Covid BCN 03: shop till you drop

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Yesterday it was time to eschew my quarantine and head out into the world to stock up on perishables. After 72 hours, in which my computer has been my only window onto the world – except for my balcony, which faces a brick wall – this was a big deal.

First things first: this meant putting on my outdoor shoes, careful not to tread virus deeper into the house. In many countries, people remove their shoes when they enter a home, but in Catalonia, with its predominantly tiled floors, shoes inside remains the norm. That’s a thing of the past. Shoes that walk on the street now stay in the entrance hall, since virus-containing sputum coughed into the air ends up on the street and from there onto the soles of your shoes, where it can live for several hours.

I take my shopping bag and head downstairs – I’ve been advised not to use shopping trolleys as too many people have handled them (I’ve been trying not to use plastic for several months already because of the environment). Once below, I realise I have no gloves (or a mask!) and have to open the street door with the cuff of my jacket. So many simple actions now need to be rethought to help contain the spread of this virus.

At my local supermarket, a few dodgy characters can be seen hanging around the entrance, but there are no queues or hysterical mobs in sight. Yet as I go to enter, one of them hauls me up. Thus I am introduced to the new Covid queue: far more spacious, with oodles of room between you and the next person. I assume I’ll be here for hours so I take a selfie, but in just a few minutes, I am waved in by a masked and gloved supermarket cashier, who in these post-Covid days has assumed the role of traffic warden. Inside, there is none of the usual shoving and jostling that generally goes on in this small but popular shop. Customers edge around each other warily, aiming to maintain that crucial one metre of viral-free breathing space.

Photo showing people in BCN queuing 1.5 metres apart
The new Covid queue is far more spacious: over 1.5 metres between members and no nasty pushers-in

I’m surprised to find that many products are available: no eggs, pasta, fresh milk or my particular brand of yoghurt, but plenty of paella rice (fair enough; it isn’t the season for large family gatherings), and meat and poultry. I came for juice, yoghurt and other perishables and these are mostly available. That may be unique to this supermarket, which though small is popular, offering high-quality products at excellent prices, so endless restocking of shelves has always been a big part of their working day.

It is tempting to want to pile goods into my bag. The whole atmosphere is post-apocalyptic, and the goods I am seeing now may not be here tomorrow or next week. But I stiffen my resolve and heed the government warnings not to hoard, buying just what I came here for, not a half dozen more.

Today is Tuesday, and I am worried that my organic veggies woman – who normally comes into town on Tuesday evenings – will have bailed. Last night my remaining veggies were looking extremely bedraggled. I made soup, reader. There is something about this lockdown that inspires domestic endeavour (being shut within these same four walls, no doubt). There’s been a frenzy of vacuuming from neighbours above and below over the last 48 hours).

Today’s figures are six deaths and almost 500 new cases in Catalonia. Five of the mortalities are linked to the city of Igualada, which has been totally closed off from the rest of Catalonia. Spain is still being laggardly about closing its ports and airports – or about isolating Madrid. The city has become a major focus of viral infection – and spread: the capital’s wealthy have apparently been fleeing to their summer homes in Valencia and so importing the virus there, which the Valencians are none too thrilled about.

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Covid BCN 02

Since it looks like Barcelona will be locked down even beyond the next two weeks, I’m posting a few choice diary excerpts about life in the containment zone. Without the raunchy bits – unless you count me sitting on my balcony watching pigeons copulate (lucky buggers!). In terms of entertainment value, I doubt it will have Netflix quaking in its boots, but it passes the time.

Monday, 16 March 2020

On Sunday my plan had been to put on my cycling gear and get in a decent ride before we were all totally locked down, but in the event I just lounged around home watching Netflix. So when that evening, Jordi told me that two Lycra-clad cyclists had been fined on Avinguda Paral·lel to the tune of 600 EUR, I thought: “There but for the luck of the Irish …” As a middle-aged man who goes cycling in Lycra, I know that middle-aged men wearing Lycra is a crime of fashion in the first degree, but I still find the punishment extreme.

At 8 o’clock every evening, neighbours have been coming out on their balconies and continuously applauding in support of the health workers and other workers who are on the front line in the fight against covid19. Apparently, it’s a trend that started in Italy and has taken off here. I take part. It almost passes for socialising.

Wholemeal and spelt sourdough bread with rosemary and olive oil topping ready for baking
Into the oven … Sourdough bread with olive oil and rosemary topping to give it some perfume

This morning I baked a fresh batch of sourdough bread. This has been my homebody thing for several months and now it’s my small contribution to the covid19 crisis. Not that I can divide a few loaves among the five thousand who are combatting the crisis – that’s been done before anyway – but it offers at least some semblance of community support to a couple of Poble Sec residents. The flour combination I used for this batch was about 70% white, and 15% each of spelt and wholemeal flour, giving a nice light but chewy brown bread. I managed to get good aeration in this batch.

Freshly baked sourdough bread of wholemeal and spelt flours
The covid loaf: sourdough bread of wholemeal and spelt flours with added immunity against the virus!

Yesterday I also downloaded an app from my gym, as I’ll need to start exercising at home if I can’t get to the pool or take my bike out. This blog post by the Travellothoner also offers a short workout you can do in just a few square metres with no equipment. So yes, that middle-aged man in Lycra doing knee bends on his balcony c’est moi. Or maybe I’ll take up Tai Chi again.

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Covid BCN 01

Since the whole of Barcelona is going to be locked down for at least the next two weeks, I thought I might post a few excerpts from my diary, detailing the ongoing craziness. It will depend on interest (my own and others) as to whether this becomes a regular thing.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Cercle Artístic Sant Lluc has said it will close its doors from 16 March because of the Covid19 hysteria, so I need to take advantage of the days left to get some drawing in. I think the next few weeks are going to become crazy. The other day I did a big shop at BonÀrea, stocking up on jars of lentils, beans, pasta and other non-perishables as I suspect that this week people will start swamping the supermarkets, bulk-buying against the scare of a lockdown as part of anti-coronavirus measures. Being a trendy liberal Guardian reader, I’ve seen this is already happening in the UK and elsewhere (worldwide toilet paper shortage!), so forewarned is forearmed.

As my working life is pretty much a model of self-isolation anyway (working at home, not forming part of large groups), I think I’m unlikely to be stricken down any time soon. My friend Jordi, working in the hospital reception is totally frontline, so if it does enter our orbit, it may be from that direction. For people like us, young(ish) and fit, the symptoms are likely to be mild, so I’m not too concerned. It is interesting to watch the world’s population at work though – a fascinating study for a science fiction movie: so this is how the world really reacts to an alien invasion!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Barcelona life has undergone radical changes yet little has changed for me personally. Last night the government closed all sports and entertainment centres, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops. Most businesses are now working from home – it is in this sense that little has changed for me. Though it is a bummer that I can no longer go to the pool. I’ll have to get my bike rideable in the next few days. Last night, we had an early beer at Saïd’s, went home for dinner, and then Jordi and Andreu came round to mine and we had beers on the balcony. In that time, the Catalan government issued a decree to close all the bars and restaurants.

Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa
Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa

So my larder is full, I have beers, gin and Irish whiskey in stock … Hence these days should be an intensive of writing and art … Let’s see.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

I tried to go for a final bike ride today down to the beach and the police turned me back at Plaça del Mar. From tomorrow everything will be in total lockdown. I have food stocked up for a month though apparently food shops will be open. We’ll see how much translation work comes in over this time.

Actually I quite like having the excuse to do nothing but sit at home and write or paint.

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