An empty grocery store in Alicante, Spain. Photo by Michael Kanter.

Spain’s expedited lockdown and the data that backs up its urgency

On March 13, Spain began to control movement on a national scale and regulate regions outside of the hotspots in Madrid, Cataluña and the Basque Country. Much like how the U.S. refused entry to foreign nationals from many countries on March 12, Spain restricted domestic travel to those who absolutely needed to return home.

I began asking people how long they thought it would be before we reached a standstill like Italy. Most answered with estimates within a week, thinking that this was a conservative guess and that there was no way we made it longer than seven days without an enforced lockdown. Grocery stores began to be emptied and trucks full of food clogged the narrow streets while shelves were restocked. Small towns appeared to be completely deserted until you found the entire community standing in line outside of the grocery store or pharmacy. 

By 12 p.m. on March 14, the City of Alicante had transitioned into a self-enforced close. Police in masks stopped at store fronts, coffee shops and restaurants, ordering them to close immediately. With the exception of people running errands and walking dogs, there were hardly any people on the streets. Grocery stores that had been restocked and full of people in the morning, were now completely empty. Nonperishables and hygienic supplies had been gone for days. By the 14th there was hardly any food on the shelves. On Sunday the 15th, local and national police began ticketing people on the streets unless they were making a quick trip to a bank, pharmacy or grocery store. Enforced lock down began 36 hours after I had started asking people when they expected it. The military arrived at the local airport on the 14th to enforce travel restrictions.

While the rapid progression of the situation has been alarming, it is reassuring that citizens began self regulating almost a full day ahead of the lockdown. There is a lot of solidarity and resilience in the community here. In a culture where the majority of life is lived outside and on the street, it is incredible to see people make this shift with such urgency and still be grateful for what they have. Every night at 8 p.m., windows open and the city applauds the healthcare workers.

My 72-year-old host mother has not left her apartment for the last five days. She has had serious cardio and pulmonary issues for the past 20 years. 16 days ago she asked that I avoid big cities and airports for the duration of my stay in Spain. Two days after that I went to the gym and the pool for the last time. Since then, the largest gatherings I have attended have been academic classes which are now canceled. However, I did not start avoiding the beach early enough, and every day I fear that I will find her coughing more than she already does due to her chronic health issues. She maintains an incredibly positive attitude and spends the majority of each day on the phone with her sisters, children and grandchildren. Her son told her that they will not be able to visit her for the foreseeable future and if she has to go to the hospital she will go alone. She now has enough of her medication to last for several weeks, and enough food to last until the grocery stores are restocked. One of her neighbors will leave food at her door.

Though I may have a biased perspective as a result of my host mother’s situation, the data of this outbreak speaks for itself. Click here for Medium’s clear analysis of what needs to be done and the statistics that prove the urgency of the situation, and click here for Medium’s updated and more general coronavirus feed. Additional research done by a group of European Universities highlights the importance of individual action in this article. Lastly, the Johns Hopkins University GIS system captures the severity of the current situation and the hopeful possibilities if we take the right steps now. I encourage everyone reading this to visit these links and share them with as many people as you can. 

The CDC and WHO websites also provide valuable information. These are the people we should be listening to right now. It is possible that if Americans act now and take social distancing seriously, hospitals may not get too overwhelmed. If we change our behavior now, doctors and nurses may be able to sleep, triage may not have to be as exclusive and we may have enough oxygen tanks. From a more individualistic perspective, if you start social distancing now, we may be able to avoid total isolation in the future. If you limit your interactions to close friends, family members and grocery store employees, it is likely that you will be able to continue to be with these people. This is a learning opportunity for our generation. What this means is that we need to act now to flat line the spread of the virus. Once this is accomplished we will need to make policy changes in preparation for future crises.  

Michael Kanter ’21 has been studying abroad in Alicante for the Spring 2020 semester through a Lewis & Clark program run by Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the Universidad de Alicante. The program was canceled on March 12, and Kanter is in the process of returning home.

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