Coronavirus in Spain: Life Under Lockdown

That title sounds a lot more intense than the situation actually is. Long story short: we’re fine. (But I had to draw you in somehow.)

On Friday afternoon, Spanish prime minster Pedro Sánchez announced that the country would be entering a “state of alarm” due to the coronavirus crisis. Yesterday (Saturday), more details were provided as to the specifics. Essentially, the entire country is on lockdown, and movements are extremely limited by the government except in essential situations.

So what does this mean, exactly? Well, from what I’ve seen in the comments section on various news sites and social media posts, people outside of Spain have been speculating everything from “drones will deliver food to people at home” (must have missed my place 🤷‍♀️) to “nobody will be able to work” (welcome to the 21st century, where many of us will be doing so from home).

To set the record straight, I wanted to explain a little bit about the coronavirus lockdown in Spain, and what this nationwide quarantine actually means.

What is a state of alarm?

The Spanish constitution allows the government to implement one of three different measures in emergency situations: a state of alarm, state of emergency, and state of siege. These allow the country’s leaders to put necessary measures into place to protect the population in extreme situations.

What does Spain’s current coronavirus state of alarm mean?

The entire country has been essentially shut down, and regional governing bodies must defer to the national government in Madrid. All residents of Spain must stay at home, and are only permitted to leave under the following circumstances:

  • To buy food, medicine and pharmacy products, and other essential items
  • To get to and from hospitals and other health centers
  • To get to and from work, or provide other employment services
  • To return to their usual place of residence
  • To assist or care for the elderly, minors, dependants, people with disabilities, or other vulnerable members of society
  • In cases of force majeure
  • To refuel at gas stations
  • Any other justified activity
Empty streets in Spain days before the coronavirus lockdown was announced.
Streets were already quiet in Córdoba on Tuesday, March 10, days before the lockdown was announced.

When did the lockdown start, and how long does it last?

Originally scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Monday, March 16, the start of the lockdown was pushed up to around 9:30 p.m. last night (Saturday, March 14). The minimum duration of a state of alarm is 15 days, and that’s how long this one is planned to last, but the government can extend it if necessary.

How is the lockdown being enforced, and what happens if you break the rules?

The police and Guardia Civil have set up both “fixed and mobile” checkpoints throughout the country to enforce the lockdown. Disobeying can get you slapped with a fine of €100 at the very least, or up to a year in prison for resisting or arguing with law enforcement.

So…what’s open and what’s closed?

Grocery stores and pharmacies are open. All other public-facing establishments (shops, bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas, theaters, museums—you name it) are closed. Some food service establishments are offering takeout or delivery, but no dine-in options.

Large public events have also been suspended, including the Holy Week processions scheduled for next month here in Córdoba, in nearby Seville, and in several other locations, despite the fact that they’d be taking place after the state of alarm is currently scheduled to end.

Empty streets near the Mezquita of Cordoba in Spain
The area around the Mezquita has been eerily quiet all week.

How do you get enough to eat? Who do you buy food from?

This has been a common concern I’ve seen popping up—guys, grocery stores are open! And because the lockdown allows people to get to and from work, the employees of said grocery stores are there to check us out as usual.

What’s up with public transportation (including airports)?

Local public transportation completely depends on the city or town. Here in Córdoba, our city buses are running, but only accepting payment with pre-loaded “Bonobus” cards—no cash.

Buses and trains that serve all of Spain are able to cut services by up to 50 percent, and fewer tickets have been made available for purchase.

Airports are still open for the time being, but many individual airlines are canceling flights left and right. Increased health and security measures have also been implemented.

How are the grocery stores looking?

Yesterday, the big Dia we usually go to for big weekend shops was absolutely decimated, but we were able to find most of what we needed (though in many cases had to go with different brands than what we’d normally buy).

In the evening, we braved the grocery store yet again—this time, the smaller Deza in our neighborhood—to stock up on snacks for all the TV and movie-watching we’ll be doing, as well as to get one last walk in before the lockdown went into effect. This one was noticeably busy, but the shelves were fuller (though we did see employees restocking while we were there).

Empty shelves at a grocery store during the Coronavirus lockdown in Spain
We’ll be vegetarians for the time being (meat was the only thing on our list we couldn’t get, as evidenced by the cleared-out cooler here), but we’ll be fine.

Can people travel within and out of Spain?

Airports and train stations are still open, but availability of flights and other public transportation is limited.

I imagine you’d need to have a justified reason for trips within Spain (traveling to help an elderly relative in another city, for example) given the extremely specific nationwide restrictions on movement. As far as international travel goes, Spain’s borders aren’t officially closed, but many countries (most notably the U.S.) have restricted entry to Spanish travelers.

I have a trip booked to Berlin for early April, and even though the state of alarm in Spain is scheduled to have ended by then, I have a feeling we won’t be going—and I’m okay with that. We have free cancelation available at our hotel, and are currently able to change the dates of our flight free of charge until March 31 (we’re waiting it out a bit to see if borders close or other restrictions are put into place that would enable us to cancel altogether). I love Berlin, and was excited to go back and show my boyfriend around one of my favorite cities in the world, but traveling for pleasure just isn’t the responsible choice to make at this time.

What’s the general feeling in Spain?

From what I can tell, people are extremely supportive of the measures. Even the Partido Popular, the right-wing party in direct opposition to Sánchez and his progressive PSOE ruling party, has pledged its support. Being stuck inside for two weeks isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but it’s amazing to see how people have rallied together and pledged to stay home in order to help stop this virus in its tracks and keep our communities healthy.

Did people ever think it would get this bad there?

We always knew it was out there, but I don’t think any of us regular people here in Spain expected it would escalate so quickly in such a short amount of time. Just two weeks ago my boyfriend and I visited Granada for the long weekend we had for Andalusia Day, just a few days after the first case was confirmed here in southern Spain. Everybody and their mother was out and about enjoying the beautiful weather and the holiday weekend. At that point, we were still washing our hands and using hand sanitizer more often than normal, but that was the extent of it.

Mirador de San Nicolás viewpoint in Granada, Spain
In Granada just two weeks ago. (Not pictured: the several hundred strangers that were also enjoying the sunset at Mirador de San Nicolás.)

What do you do for two weeks stuck at home?

Everyone is different, but I’m planning on using this time productively as best as I can. I’ll be working from home, but in my downtime I plan on doing at-home workouts and yoga (since the gym is closed), trying some new recipes, and studying German. (A few weeks ago after we booked our Berlin trip, I decided that now was the time to really, truly learn German after studying it on and off since 2013—I’m doubtful that we’ll end up going, but I can still learn!)

People are also coming together as best they can through group chats, social media, and opening their windows to give a round of applause to medical staff every day at 8 p.m. during the lockdown. We’re not quite on Italy’s level yet (they’re pros at this lockdown thing by now, and have organized entire makeshift concerts where residents of nearby apartment buildings open their windows, play music and dance together at a set time throughout the day), but I have a feeling Spain will get there soon enough.

What can I do to help?

First of all, if your area has not been quarantined yet, please consider doing the right thing and practicing social distancing as much as you are able to. By flattening the curve, high-risk individuals such as the elderly and immunocompromised have a lesser chance of being exposed to the virus, and healthcare systems won’t get overloaded as quickly. So try and stay home—and wash your hands!

If you’re interested in helping the communities and industries that are already feeling the effects of COVID-19, there are a number of ways you can do so. When you do need to go out and shop or grab a bite to eat, try and support Spanish-, Italian-, or Chinese-owned businesses in your hometown (the latter population especially has been suffering an enormous wave of xenophobia as the virus makes headlines throughout the world). And if you’re wondering, “what about social distancing?”, two words: Chinese takeout! You can also support affected communities by purchasing items made in those destinations online.

And, if it’s in your means, be sure to plan a trip here (to Spain, or any other affected destination) later in the year! Tourism is the backbone of many European economies, which have already taken an enormous hit from this virus. When you’re here, be sure to book experiences with locally owned tour companies (including mine!) and support small businesses throughout your stay.

If you have any more questions about the coronavirus-induced lockdown in Spain, please let me know! I’ll be happy to answer, and will try and update this post when appropriate.

Author: lindseyzimmerman

I'm a marketing pro, writer and cat person from Columbus, Ohio living in southern Spain since 2015. Usually drinking manzanilla, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once).

2 thoughts

  1. Hi Lindsey. Just came across your very informative blog pages. My wife and I are actually from Athens and Cleveland .I’m a fellow Bobcat she is a Buckeye. We are moving next month (February 2021) to a home we bought two years ago in Altea (C0sta Blanca). took us this long to disengage from work and get our residential non-lucrative visas! Looking forward to starting a new chapter in life though friends and family think we are crazy doing this during Covid crisis in Spain.

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