The above is a photograph showing the current situation in Albir. It is 1pm on a glorious sunny afternoon. The temperature is in the high 20’s. This is the main street, usually full with people and cars at this time of day and year, is pretty much deserted. The terraces of the cafés and bars are empty, as are the stock rooms and tills.
This has been the normal for the last 6+ weeks. The towns population has been remarkable with the self-isolation, quarantine and lockdown. The Coronavirus pandemic has been very hard for everyone, some people have not even left their, perhaps tiny, apartment for over 45 days. Others have had illness and even loss of family and friends.
Many small businesses are now on the brink of total devastation. There have been promises from the government for assistance but, for many, very little has been forthcoming. The self employed such as hairdressers, beauticians, fitness trainers, pool cleaners and gardeners have lost full income. Employees at bars, restaurants, hotels and shops have been made, either permanently or temporarily, redundant on ERTE schemes. Most have not yet received any unemployment benefit payment from the government. For many people the money is running out!
Is there now a light at the end of the tunnel? The Spanish government has announced plans for a phased return to some kind of new “normality”. There are 4 phases, with PHASE 0 being the preparation. This phase is much like the current situation. From May 4th 2020 appointments for services and purchases of products can be made. Food ordering for takeaway can resume. With strict safety and social distancing guidelines. This means some people can get back to work. But this is the few, and this is the way it should be.
PHASE 1 is the biggest easing of restrictions so far. On 11th May cafés and bars that have outside sidewalk (pavement) table seating or terrace seating are allowed to open. But they are only allowed to accommodate (seat/serve) 30% of their capacity. Those with small terraces will perhaps only be allowed to cater for maybe 5 people. This will do very little to ease the suffering of any landlords. It will not enable many serving and waiting staff to return to work.
Strict conditions also mean that no customers will be allowed to enter the interior of the bar or restaurant. We have yet to determine how this will affect use of the toilet facilities. This seems a strange restriction. A bar cannot allow a person to enter the premises to order at the bar or visit the toilet, but yet at the supermarket next door you are able to go in, grab a 6 pack, go to the checkout and pay, and then use the toilet if they have one. This seems a very strange rule considering the 30% capacity and social distancing that is in force anyway.
How will the rules be enforced? Do the bars, restaurants and authorities know the capacity of every terrace? Does it depend on how many tables and chairs you can squeeze onto your two square metres? Is there any restriction on opening or closing times? The new government announcement seems to raise more questions than it answers. The relief that some people can resume “normal” operations will certainly be welcome, but perhaps it is not the best way forward. Perhaps to remain closed until a normal inside and outside capacity can be established would be better. People will determine themselves how much social interaction is tolerable. Or is this enabling high levels of stupidity. The current level of understanding of the deescalation levels and process is best described in English by Spanish national daily newspaper El Pais, and can be found here.
The outbreak in Spain has been extreme, one of the worst Coronavirus affected countries in the world. A lot of international press has highlighted many underlying factors that could have contributed to the early and rapid rise of infections and deaths here. One of these is the nations built in “café culture”. February saw warm days. In Madrid and other large municipalities, as the pandemic was rising so was the number of people sitting with their coffees and beers on the sidewalks and terraces of the cities many bars, cafes and restaurants. Many experts believe that this customary Spanish way of life led to the Covid-19 virus spreading much quicker. Of course, it is not just this that caused the high-level increase in infections and deaths. But a quick return to the terrace café culture, when it cannot be effectively policed or monitored is perhaps not the best option.
I do welcome the day when all the lovely restaurants, cafés and bars of Albir are back doing what they do best. Lets just hope this can be done safely and sensibly.
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