The process of reopening Spain has been dubbed, rather ominously, “Operation New Normality.”
“Is there any light at the end of this long dark tunnel?” That’s a question many people are asking themselves in Spain, whose government has implemented one of the most draconian anti-Covid lockdown regimes in the world and is now beginning to loosen some of the restrictions. Sunday was the first time in 43 days that children were allowed to venture out, albeit only for a maximum of one hour. And only if they were accompanied by one adult. And under the age of 14.
It was hardly a return to normality, but after six long weeks of being cooped up at home, most of the children and their parents were happy to take up the invitation of a little fresh air, a few rays of sunshine and some open space. For the first time in a month and a half, the streets and squares of villages, towns and cities across Spain were alive with the sound of people.
This being Spain, not everyone obeyed the government’s slightly loosened rules. From the vantage point of our balcony, in the Exiample Dreta district of Barcelona, my wife and I could see many children being shepherded by both of their parents. We could also spot groups of families together as well as opportunistic childless couples who were hoping to blend in with the crowds unnoticed. Some got away with it. Others were stopped by the police and given a stern warning or fined.
Since the lockdown began in Spain some 740,000 people — the equivalent of 18,000 per day — have been fined for breaking the government’s Covid-19 rules, according to El País. That’s three times more than in Italy and almost 200 times more than in the UK during roughly the same period. The only EU country that has dished out more fines is France, whose police issued over 900,000 fines in a five-week period.
In France administrative fines can range from €135 to €3,750. In Spain they can reach as high as €600,000, a spine-chilling figure that was set by the previous Rajoy government in its overtly authoritarian Law on Citizen Security — popularly dubbed the “Gag Law” for its sweeping attacks on freedom of expression. Passed in 2015, the law was primarily intended to crack down on rising social and political protest. Today’s governing parties, then in opposition, pledged to overturn the law. They didn’t. Instead, they have kept many of the most draconian measures in place and are now making liberal use of them.
If parents and children do not follow the strict criteria for outings, those outings will be withdrawn, the government warned. Surveillance and controls will be stepped up if necessary.
As countries around the world are gradually realizing, it’s a lot easier to go into lockdown than get out of it. In Spain, where the number of new cases is averaging around 1,000 a day, the process of reopening the country has been dubbed, rather ominously, “Operation New Normality”.
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