CORONAVIRUS

Despite coronavirus risk, hundreds of students leave Madrid headed to home provinces

The exodus has been prompted after the regional government closed all schools this week, with some residences in the capital opting to close

The Loyola university residence in Madrid.
The Loyola university residence in Madrid.

Students from the Loyola residence in Madrid were taking part in a match against another college, Moncloa, on Monday, when they found out that they would not be having classes for two weeks. Nor would the more than 300,000 students who attend one of the six public and eight private universities in Madrid. The regional government on Monday opted to close all schools, kindergartens and colleges, in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

They received the news with cheers. “We were really happy, we thought that we were going to stay here [in the residence] but without class,” said a number of students on Tuesday. But the reality sank in a few hours later. At 10pm, the director of the residence, José Manuel Burgueño, brought them together and informed them that the Loyola, where more than 200 youngsters are living, would be closed from Thursday onward.

Used to living with friends and without parents, the students’ return to their home provinces was not well received

“We would have loved to have stayed here,” they complained. In the Madrid university area, the Loyola is the only residence that has decided to close down after the decision taken by the regional government.

After finding out that they would be left without a place to stay, residents of Loyola started buying tickets to their respective cities in fear that transport services would be suspended or that prices would shoot up. They were buying one-way tickets – the information that they had received spoke of a closure of at least two weeks.

Used to living with friends and without parents, the students’ return to their home provinces was not well received. “This is the worst, really bad, horrible,” complained Miriam Pérez, a student of International Relations at the Complutense University in Madrid. “What am I going to do for two weeks in Pontevedra?” In a bid to combat the boredom, Marta, Miriam and the rest of her friends were already organizing a meet-up in Galicia so that they could see each other over the coming weeks.

But boredom is not the major concern over this sudden exodus, but rather the fact that they could be taking the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with them to their homes, in particular in the cases of those who reside with elderly people – the most at-risk group from the Covid-19 disease caused by the virus.

Boredom is not the major concern over this sudden exodus, but rather the fact that they could be taking the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with them to their homes

“They want to evacuate Ciudad Universitaria in two days,” said Marta Mazaira, a law student at the Carlos III University. “It’s like saying that a large part of the population of Madrid should head out into the rest of Spain to see their grandparents.” In Madrid, coronavirus cases have already been detected at the Politécnica, Complutense, Comillas, Autonomous and Francisco de Vitoria universities.

The director of the Loyola residence, who was rushed off his feet on Tuesday morning after the decision to close was taken, argued that the youngsters live there to study, and if they do not have classes, there is no point in keeping the place open. “There is no alternative, we were clear on that,” explained Burgueño. He did not agree that there was a greater risk of contagion by forcing people who live in Madrid to go back to other Spanish provinces. “There have been no cases here, so…” the director stated.

The remainder of the city’s residences were awaiting recommendations from their deans. On Tuesday evening, the Complutense – with which the majority of residences are associated – announced that the residences would be staying open, and that each one would be taking the measures that it considered appropriate. Some have already prohibited the entry of people who are not students or employees. But in all cases, despite the fact that they have the option of staying, students are heading home according to the requests of their families. Around the Vicente Aleixandre Metro station, where there are a number of residences, the noise of suitcase wheels was constant.

Juan Muñoz, the director of the Chaminade residence, said that the residences have not been given any kind of instructions on whether people should leave or not

“My mom said yesterday that I should go home in case they lock down Madrid, or if something happens to me and I can’t get back,” said Leo Cervantes, a philosophy and politics student. “It bothers me that they haven’t explained to us whether it’s better to stay at the residence or go home. If they close the university, what do they want us to do?”

Juan Muñoz, the director of the Chaminade residence, said that the residences have not been given any kind of instructions on whether people should leave or not, or about places to avoid at the current time due to large groups of people. “That has to come from the health authorities,” he said. At the Mara women’s residence, however, director Begoña Pérez has given instructions to her 200 students. “You cannot go to the Fallas [fiestas in Valencia] and come back, and if you haven’t been to a concert in the whole year, don’t go now,” she said. “They can stay in the residence, but the families prefer to have them at home.”

Every couple of minutes a student was seen leaving the Mara residence with a suitcase. “You can stay, you know?” Pérez said to one of them. The residence director has called on the girls to only trust the official information that is being given to them by the residence. Since Monday she has only been shaking hands with people, rather than the usual Spanish tradition of two kisses on the cheek. The reality is, however, that the Health Ministry is advising people not to shake hands and to maintain a distance of one meter from others.

English version by Simon Hunter.