Postcard from Ground Zero – Brisbane couple locked down in Barcelona

Confined to their apartment in Barcelona — a city in lockdown — Andrew Burden and Ali Cameron watch the number of coronavirus cases in Spain climb and hope Australians will take advantage of the critical head start they have.

Mar 26, 2020, updated Mar 26, 2020
Andrew Burden and Ali Cameron only have one mask left over from restoring some furniture.

Supplied: Ali Cameron

Andrew Burden and Ali Cameron only have one mask left over from restoring some furniture. Supplied: Ali Cameron

Confined to our apartment in Barcelona — a city in lockdown — every day we look at the numbers on those terrible graphs, and hope Australians will take advantage of the critical head start they have.

We moved from Brisbane to Barcelona almost a year ago — the famously social plazas are now empty, the bars are closed and the seagulls are noisier than the traffic.

It has been just over one week since the city was effectively closed down and we have left the building once for food.

By Tuesday this week, there were almost 40,000 cases of COVID-19 in Spain and almost 10,000 in Catalonia — deaths across the country had surged 514 in one day to a total of 2696 people.

Everything is closed except for essential services.

On Saturday March 14, the Spanish Government declared a State of Emergency to go into effect on Monday March 16, granting them the powers to nationalise hospitals and factories, and an enforced lockdown of all citizens.

In 48 hours everything had changed.

Anti-authoritarianism is a strong sentiment here, yet under these circumstances, there seems to be little public resentment, a far cry from the Catalonian independence riots not six months ago.

Police can stop anyone and ask why they are outside, and can fine people who are not outside for essential tasks.

Next time we buy groceries, we’ve been told to take a print-off of a government document, which we fill out to explain the specific reason why we are out in public.

The stakes are high and people appear to understand.

Dog walking is one of the few reasons for being allowed out — a friend joked that we could rent her dog for five euros in order to get some fresh air.

We’re fortunate to be able to access the rooftop of the building, and we happily climb the five storeys for time in the sun.

There is a marked increase in roof life now, and we can see people reading, walking laps, exercising, and interacting from a distance.

They’re too far away to talk to but they’re comforting to see.

After our single outdoor venture for food we returned home and took off our “outside clothes” — leaving them in the designated quarantine zone at the door.

We wiped down our phones and anything else from outside.

It is as much a psychological aid as a practical one — the outside world requires caution and our apartment is a haven.

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At 8:00pm every night, without fail, we open our window to join the applause, whistles, shouts, flashing lights, music, fireworks, and raucous appreciation across the city in solidarity and support for all the health workers, as well as supermarket, delivery, transit, and social workers.

Latest news reports show that health workers make up 12 per cent of infections, amid a scarcity of protective gear.

We too cannot find P2 masks and share one basic mask between us, which was left over from a home painting job.

Proper isolation is a privilege that requires others to be out there working.

We are slowly embracing the new normal.

Friday night tapas have been replaced with Friday night video tapas. Sunday brunch has been replaced by Sunday video brunch. Board-game nights have been replaced by … you get the idea.

Going through this pandemic has been daunting in another culture, one in which we barely speak the language.

We are both permanent residents and chose to ride out the crisis here rather than fly home, risking our health and spreading the virus further.

But so far the transition has been smooth and orderly — far from the scenes overseas of panic buying and hoarding.

In Barcelona we have only seen signs of support and solidarity.

That eternal line writ large in the words and actions of the people around us: We are in this together.

– ABC / Andrew Burden

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