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‘Get into total lockdown. It is the hardest but most essential thing’: An Irishman living in Spain during COVID-19


by Jennifer McShane
22nd Mar 2020

Irishman Anthony Shevlin has spent the last number of weeks in lockdown in Madrid in Spain, one of the countries currently worst hit by the coronavirus crisis. Spain’s health ministry said on Sunday that another 394 had died in just the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed fatalities to 1,720, and there are plans for the country’s lockdown to be extended by another 15 days. He tells Jennifer McShane about life during COVID-19 and what other countries should be doing now to help contain the virus and save lives


How have you found the last week?

Well, I’ve actually been working from home for the last two weeks as a family member of a colleague tested positive. So my office was closed and we all worked from home immediately, which was a week before the rest of Spain and Madrid went into lockdown. I have my dog so luckily I’m able to go out for walks with him, and it’s nice to explore the city with nobody around. There’s also a noticeable drop in pollution and noise. I hope people take this with them after this is all over.

How have people behaved since the lockdown? Have they followed government advice?

For the most part, everyone is doing their bit and adhering to the lockdown rules. The streets of Madrid — one of the most vibrant cities I’ve ever been in — are deserted. It’s a Vanilla Sky like vibe. People here are on total lockdown and you can only leave to go to your nearest supermarket or pharmacy. Dog walkers are also allowed out.

There is a constant police presence and the army is also roaming some areas. The police will stop and ask you where you’re going, ask for ID and address. If you are too far from home they’ll fine you.

Of course, some people are breaking the law. People sneaking out to go running, etc. But the police have issued them fines and, generally, if neighbours see people on the streets for no reason, they shout from their balconies “quédate en casa” which means “stay at home!”

Empty Spanish streets during rush hour 

Have there been any food shortages or problems getting the essentials?

Yes! The first few days were a bit hectic and people cleared out toilet roll, pasta, tomato sauces and rice. Luckily this has calmed down and the supermarkets are now limiting the numbers of people allowed in at any given time. There are also limits on the number of essential products any one person can buy at a time. I smiled when I went to the supermarket one day and saw there was pasta available again!

What’s been the hardest part?

For me, it’s been hard to keep a fitness routine like before. I had taken up Crossfit at the end of last year and was progressing well, and I was training for an upcoming 10km race. It’s frustrating to know that all those gains will be lost over the coming weeks or months of lockdown, so I keep myself optimistic knowing that everyone else is in the same boat. There won’t be any operation bikini in 2020!

“Every night at 8pm everyone comes out onto their balconies and we applaud the work done by healthcare professionals and those that are working through the lockdown”

What’s been the strangest part?

Seeing the streets of this buzzing city completely still while parties are in full swing in its many balconies. It’s surreal!

Have you missed home/Ireland during this?

To be honest no, I’ve lived abroad for so long now that I consider Madrid my home now. Dublin will always be where I’m from but it isn’t where I’m drawn to in times of need.

Have people found hope and positivity in surprising places?

Every night at 8pm everyone comes out onto their balconies and we applaud the work done by healthcare professionals and those that are working through the lockdown, such as supermarket workers and transport workers. It’s a great way for the community to get together and it breaks up the monotony of being indoors. People then stay on their balcony and chat with their neighbours, be it across the street or across the hall.

Anthony’s dog Bruno

What should people in other countries be doing now while they can?

Get into total lockdown. It is the hardest but most essential thing.  The sooner this is done the quicker we can stop the spread of the virus.

Advice for people in lockdown?

You’re not missing out on anything. Your friends and family are in the same situation and this won’t be forever. We’re living through a future history lesson. Keep yourself active as much as you can indoors, keep your brain ticking over by learning a new language, get those small tasks finished around the home that you’ve been putting off for years.

This is a time to just breathe slower and embrace a simpler way of life. Bake that cake. Clean that oven. Watch that series. Get rock hard abs. This will pass.


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