CORONAVIRUS

Life after lockdown in Galicia: Business (nearly) as usual

The first of Spain’s regions to enter the “new normality” sees few changes, although children’s playgrounds are finally accessible after a three-month closure due to the coronavirus crisis

City workers cleaning up a playground in Santiago de Compostela.
City workers cleaning up a playground in Santiago de Compostela.OSCAR CORRAL / EL PAÍS

Life in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia continued much the same on Monday even though it was no longer under the state of alarm. The Galician regional government is the first to lift the extraordinary measure, which was implemented by the central government in mid-March in a bid to curb the coronavirus outbreak. But although it has entered the “new normality” one week before the official end of the state of alarm, some of the lockdown restrictions remain. Residents cannot travel outside of the region and face masks must still be worn if social-distancing measures cannot be respected.

The biggest change is that children can finally return to outdoor playgrounds, which have been closed for the past three months. On Monday, however, many of these areas remained closed or empty due to the rain and the fact that the regional government gave local city halls very little time to get them ready.

But seven-year-old Lucas did not let the intermittent wet weather stop him from playing on the swings in La Marina park in A Coruña, the second-most populous city in Galicia. “It has been really cool. We are starting a new beginning, it’s as if there were no coronavirus!” he exclaims while jumping up and down. “Children have needed this, they have been confined for a long time,” adds his great aunt, as she gives him a cuddle. To celebrate the change, they are planning on doing a tour of the children’s playgrounds in the city. The next stop is Los Cantones park, 500 meters away.

Now that the state of alarm has been lifted, Galicia has said goodbye to the restrictions on social gatherings in homes. What’s more, most public spaces, such as bars, stores, museums, libraries and sporting centers, have been able to increase their maximum capacity to 75%. But there are some exceptions: sidewalk cafés are allowed to be at 80% capacity, while common areas in shopping centers cannot go above 50%. Up to a thousand people will be able to attend open-air events provided they are seated, or 300 in the case of closed venues.

“There is still a long way to go before the situation in the [hospitality] sector returns to normal,” warns Rubén Rey, the owner of the Taberna de Cunqueiro in A Coruña. With the state of alarm lifted, the distance between tables has been reduced from two meters to 1.5 meters, and the number of people allowed in his restaurant has increased from 25 to 38. “It is a significant change, 50% more,” he explains. But according to Rey, his patrons no longer want the same thing: now they prefer to dine outside even if it’s raining, and stay at one restaurant, instead of hopping from one tapas place to another. “They sit down and eat, but they don’t change restaurants,” he says.

The lack of tourists is what is most affecting us now
Óscar Hurtado, manager of a shoe shop in A Coruña

Meanwhile, the stores in the center of A Coruña continue to suffer from the lack of tourists. The limit on capacity is no longer the problem. “A certain degree of normality has been noticeable for weeks, because people have now adopted the habits of [using] hand sanitizer, [maintaining] distance, face masks, and are in a better mood,” says Óscar Hurtado, the manager of a shoe shop in the center. “The lack of tourist movement is what is most affecting us now.”

A few meters away, four-year-old Alba is pushing a baby stroller. It is her birthday and at last she can enjoy the outdoor playgrounds. But she will have to wait if she wants to celebrate her birthday in a children’s ball pit. Her father says that what she and her seven-year-old sister Sara have missed most is “playing and sharing with their classmates” at school. “I miss the park more,” counters Sara.

Under the regional rules for the “new normality,” children’s playgrounds have to be disinfected every day and a maximum of one person per square meter must be respected. The rules also recommend that hand sanitizer dispensers be placed in the parks. The Galician government published the rules on Saturday, two days before lifting the state of alarm. This gave city halls little time to prepare the playgrounds. In Vigo, they remain closed, and in Santiago de Compostela, local authorities say they will not open until July 1, although some youngsters were already playing there on Monday.

The Galician government will keep primary schools and centers for the elderly and for people with disabilities closed until September. Nightclubs, pubs and party venues will also remain shut for the time being. According to the premier of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, from the Popular Party (PP), “preventive measures are relaxed” in these types of establishments and it “is necessary to wait a little more” before allowing them to reopen. Regional authorities say they are prepared to address any possible outbreaks, and add that they will try to prevent residents from regions with high levels of coronavirus infections from entering Galicia when the state of alarm is lifted across Spain on June 21.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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