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Friday, September 18, 2020

Ignoring social distancing in Spain: “I just won’t stay at home!”

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On May 4th, 2020, three of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, the Valencian Community, where I currently live, tiny Murcia, one of the world’s leading producer of fruits and vegetables, and the Balearic Islands, a tourist magnet in the Mediterranean, for the first time reported no new cases since the pandemic started hitting the Iberian Peninsula in March.

Yesterday, almost 254,000 infections had been reported in the country, and the death toll will soon surpass 26,000 people. Still, the coronavirus confinement measures in Spain had already been relaxed last weekend. But as during the last eight weeks I almost got accustomed to staying at home, only today I finally went out for a short walk. I saw a lot of people without surgical masks and not keeping a distance from each other at all. From my balcony I had already observed a couple holding hands, without wearing gloves or surgical masks.

This obvious carelessness seems to be wore widespread in the capital Madrid, which very quickly became the epicenter of the outbreak after a government-backed feminist demonstration on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Suddenly, according to security forces, and compared to the good attitude during the weeks of total confinement, it seems that a few of the younger city’s residents have the feeling that the situation has improved so much that they can go out as if nothing was wrong at all. Some were even chanting: “I just won’t stay at home!”

As a result, police is now thoroughly investigating two incidents in a neighborhood frequented by students, where after 8:00 PM, still in bright daylight, an improvised street party took place. Passersby were flabbergasted, and some blamed the spontaneous ravers. Nearby, a DJ on a balcony contributed to the good mood with electronic music and lights, like in a discotheque.

By analyzing at least five videos taken, the agents first try to identify the street, then ask neighbors and finally issue fines for breaking the current regulations: 601 euros for ignoring the confinement, another 301 for drinking on the street (the notorious botellón) or directly 1,200 euros if drugs are involved, which is often the case.

Some of the offenders might actually be subject to legal prosecution due to gross disobedience and jeopardizing public health, if they are tested positive and did put other persons in danger. Just in Madrid and just the first night after the lockdown was eased, there were 30 cases, three times as many as the average during the last couple of weeks.

At a park, tape clearly indicating “No entry” was ripped off. People were doing gymnastics together, all touching the same metal bars with their bare hands. After enjoying themselves on a public football ground, a crowd of youngsters run away when the Law was approaching. These isolated incidents may not indicate a collective relaxation mood, though there are more police patrols planned.

Unfortunately, after former conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was caught on tape exercising outside, and incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, convinced communist Pablo Iglesias, attended a cabinet meeting without a surgical mask while his infected partner was under quarantine, few things surprise me nowadays. Lack of responsibility seems to be quite representative for modern Spanish society, regardless of your social status.

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