The sombre apocalypse

Athlone native Morgan Fagg details his experience of his month-long lockdown in Madrid

Athlone native Morgan Fagg pictured on a deserted street in Madrid.

Athlone native Morgan Fagg pictured on a deserted street in Madrid.

Lockdown started in Spain on March 14 but I had already stopped working by then after a client cancelled an English class to tell me that he had been in contact with people who were believed to have tested positive for Covid-19.

He cancelled the class in person, which was a very surreal and sombre experience. I couldn’t believe someone who was standing one metre away from me, had still come to work despite receiving the terrible news.

Since then I have been teaching online classes with varying degrees of success.

On Friday March 13, Madrid prepared for the lockdown and a technician came to my apartment to service our boiler, his name is Jesús and we talked about his favourite Irish writer, Ian Gibson, and I prepared him a coffee.

When he left, I scrubbed the sugar bowl he touched and the cup that he drank from.

It was surreal talking in Spanish about literature when the world outside seemed to be preparing for the end. When this is all over, I will have to invest in some of Ian Gibson’s highly recommended books.

The following day, a neighbour dropped off an electric drill as I wanted to do a little DIY during the lockdown. I offered him some disposable gloves to bring home and he graciously accepted.

Three weeks later, he has now tested positive for Covid-19 and so has his wife.

The figures for infections in Madrid are astronomically high and the death rate has been particularly painful as Coronavirus hit nursing homes and the elderly particularly hard.

As a result of the high number of deaths, two ice-rinks have been used as temporary morgues as the country deals with the outbreak.

I was able to continue to work from home by teaching online classes, and my girlfriend took one final trip to her office on Friday March 13 to get some paperwork to allow her to work from home.

Her company is processing a lot of online orders at the moment and despite working from the dining room table, she is unable to finish work any earlier than when she was taking a bus home.

We are busy and thank goodness for that, we have no balcony or garden and the only time I have seen a blue sky in the last month was when a friend video called me from his garden.

Mateusz Musialski is an EMT in the Midlands and was enjoying the good weather and a day off work, before returning to driving ambulances for the Easter bank holiday. In this topsy turvy world we are living in, I was jealous of blue skies in Ireland after a month of rain in Madrid.

The sky and atmosphere in Madrid has changed without millions of people driving around the city each day, and the constant rain means that the air quality has improved dramatically and air pollution is reported to be down 55%.

Cooped up in my apartment for a month, I have been reduced to opening windows to make sure there is enough oxygen inside whenever I have a headache, and trips to the supermarket have become a welcome adventure.

There is nothing wrong with being trapped inside if it helps to ease the burden on medical staff treating patients and if it reduces the number of new cases and daily deaths.

There is no comparison to the horrors of the Blitz, or of Anne Frank’s experience in Amsterdam. We have to isolate but we have WiFi and television and social networks to help with the social distancing.

I talk with friends and family each day on the telephone, and apart from the worry of contracting Covid-19 while out shopping, the only worry I have is that I am running low on Barry’s Tea. I have had wonderful food each night and someone to share this difficult time with.

My family had asked me if I wanted to fly home as we started the lockdown in Madrid and I said no. I had no wish to risk bringing this disease home with me even if many other people fled the city for their summer homes which only helped to spread the pandemic throughout Spain.

Starting on March 11, I stayed at home and even though it was the anniversary of Europe’s worst terrorist attack which took place on my street. The bombings of the train station at Atocha and the 197 lives lost that were lost that day seemed to be forgotten as the daily death toll steadily rose.

As many as a thousand a day have since died in Spain but there is light at the end of the tunnel as the country has been consistent in social distancing people for a month.

When the WHO finally declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the lockdown went into effect but with children playing in parks and parties taking place, the quarantine quickly needed to be enforced.

La Policia deployed drones to warn people of the need to stay indoors and even put police tape over play areas as if they were crime scenes.

In reality, children running straight into the arms of their grandparents could be crimes scenes.

There are 47 million Spanish people on lockdown and I hope they are surviving as well as I am. People’s sense of humour has been great and I think a lot of people have been very responsible about handling this lockdown.

If Spain acted sooner and cancelled large gatherings of over 1,000 people, things might have been better, but I fear that Ireland won’t know the danger until it hits hard.

Italy and Spain are examples that Ireland has to heed, and when I watched a BBC report where an Irish politician was asked why Ireland was overreacting when the Republic has had so few deaths, I wondered if there has been so few deaths because of the action taken.

The UK has had more deaths than Ireland has had cases, and we will see how both countries fare with Covid-19 in the future when one leader returns to medicine and the other takes up a hospital bed.

You don’t get a second chance to control a pandemic and I am reminded of a flu I had at the end of February. My girlfriend and I both took time off work and went to see the doctor.

I wasn’t worried of Covid-19 as I didn’t have a high fever, but I stayed away from friends and events while I was under the weather, and that mentality of keeping my distance from very early on might just have saved my life or at the very least stopped the spread of a nasty flu to friends.

You don’t get a second chance to keep coronavirus out of the community but I felt that flu in February prepared me for fighting an invisible enemy which has killed more than 120,000 globally and 18,000 here in Spain.

There are brighter days ahead and good weather to be enjoyed, Spain will allow some people to return to work soon but for now, I am happy to stay indoors.


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