From La Calle to Confinement: Life In Spain During the Coronavirus

Marc Oakley
5 min readApr 10, 2020
Roadblock in Spain’s Catalonia region.

It began with a raspy dry cough, followed by a fever and crippling muscle pain which left his five-year-old son unable to walk. Shortly after, his wife felt a stabbing pain in her throat, which morphed into a two-day long intense fever, coupled with muscular pains and diarrhea.

Confined to a 1,076 sq-ft apartment (100 sqm) in Ondarroa — a small fishing village in northern Spain’s Basque province - Xabi relies on friends and relatives to bring food and necessities ever since his family started showing symptoms of COVID-19. Although he’s taken out the trash a couple of times, his family hasn’t stepped foot outside of their apartment in 24 days.

“The doctors told us to stay inside for a few weeks, unless our symptoms get worse,” he recalls. “We wanted to slow the spread of the virus as much as possible so that one of us could take care of our son,” he says.

Xabi and his family are nearly certain that they caught — and survived — the coronavirus. Because they were never tested, they won’t be counted among the thousands who have contracted the virus. That number has surpassed 157,022 countrywide.

On March 14th, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ordered the country of 47 million to stay at home for 15 days. He also mandated the closing of all bars, restaurants, and hotels. That has since been extended until May, although the government has hinted at possibly softening some controls.

From plazas and parks to bakeries and bars, Spanish life is defined by eating, drinking, socializing, and working elbow-to-elbow in shared, often crowded, spaces — all outside of the home. Not being able to access these quintessential hubs — collectively referred to as la calle — has had devastating results.

“There are days that I find myself climbing up the walls,” Xabi admits. “It’s a little claustrophobic. Sometimes I feel anxious. Not being able to take a walk, exercise, have physical contact with other people…It’s pretty tough.”

Maribel, a bubbly small-business owner who lives in 53 kilometers to the east in San Sebastián with her 19-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter, has also struggled to adjust to a life limited to a three-bedroom apartment.

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Marc Oakley

Shepherd of words. Wrangler of turds. Toddler survivor. Writer for #The Ascent and #The Riff. Ambassador of Hope at THE WALLOBOOKS PROJECT. marcoakley.com