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Lockdown: not that different from normal life

What was quarantine like in Catalan villages with fewer than a hundred residents?

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04 July 2020 08:06 PM

by

Nura Portella Genestar|Barcelona

Coronavirus and the lockdown have had an enormous impact on those who were living a frenetic life in cities. No more taking crowded public transport every day, breathing contaminated air, and rushing from home to work.

But life was very different in the small towns of Catalonia, mostly located in the interior of the country and with an economy based mainly on agriculture and livestock.

Catalonia is divided into 47 municipalities, which can be organized into 42 'comarques', 4 provinces, and 9 health regions. This last division has been the most important one during the coronavirus pandemic, as the lockdown and the de-escalation processes have been organized by health region.

In total, 2,131 people live in the 30 Catalan municipalities with less than 100 inhabitants, although in reality there are much fewer people living there, taking into account, for example, second homes.

We've heard a lot about how life has changed in cities, such as Barcelona and its metropolitan area, which have been emptied of cars and where pollution has dropped. But what about confinement in those small towns where life has continued to follow its natural course?

"Things should have been done in another way"

One small village has 40 people registered as living there, but according to its mayor, only 18 of them have spent the confinement period there, as the rest stayed in their second homes.

When residents had to leave their homes for essential activities such as grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy, they had to drive for ten minutes to the nearest town. These short trips have been the reality for many small villages which don't have any shops.

The mayor, who asked not to be named, believes the rules that the Spanish government imposed should have varied depending on the territory, as no one knows their needs better than those who live there: "I recognize that we haven't done some things as the rules say, but some of them are very difficult for us to fulfill." However, he did admit that if the territories had been allowed to decide what they wanted, it would have been very difficult to control the disease.

"Here they could have let us go out for a walk an hour each day, all by ourselves, and we wouldn't have bothered anyone or caused the virus to spread," he added.

Among the 18 inhabitants of the village, there were a few young women who needed to connect to the internet every day to do their job or to attend online lectures at the university. But the internet that reaches the town, and many others in rural Catalonia, is very weak. Therefore, the council decided to enable a space wide and safe enough for these young people to go and do their work in the town hall, where a good internet connection could be found.

The lockdown in a rural town

With 54 inhabitants, Sant Agustí de Lluçanes is the smallest town of the fifty that make up the region of Osona, which is part of the Central Catalonia health region.

Its mayor, Josep Pujol, sees things differently. "I think the quarantine was a good decision because otherwise a lot of people would have come together and it was very dangerous," explains Pujol, who lives on a farm far from the town center and was therefore not significantly affected by the measures.

In Sant Agustí there are a couple of restaurants that were slow to reopen, because, according to the mayor, it was not profitable for them to do so while they could only have a third of their capacity. Cafes and restaurants are the economic engine of the village, along with farming. The farmers, however, like the mayor himself, have been able to continue working throughout.

Pujol is very proud of the behavior of his fellow citizens: "People have behaved very well. The fifteen people living in the center of the town, at first were always locked up at home. Now that they can go for a walk, they do it with their neighbors, but they always put on their masks."

And, what about the smallest town in Catalonia?

That is Gisclareny, located in the region of El Berguedà. It took this title in 2018 from Sant Jaume de Fontranyà, a village located just 30 kilometers away in the same region, after it saw an increase in population in recent years.

It is a village surrounded by nature and in which only 27 people are registered. But, according to the residents, only fifteen people live there throughout the year, the same fifteen that have spent lockdown there. And now, they are going back to the lives they had before the pandemic.

But is normal life very different from life during confinement in such a small village? "No, not at all," says Oriol Baños, one of the town’s residents.

According to this young man, it is usually difficult to meet neighbors and now it has been even more so. "The truth is that, despite being so few and none of us infected we have paid attention to the rules of confinement," he explains.

El Berguedà is a region that is part of the province of Barcelona. Thus, if the easing of confinement had been managed by provinces, as was originally proposed by the Spanish government, it would have continued in Phase 0 because of the high number of cases in the Catalan capital of 1.6 million inhabitants.

Unlike the other two villages, Giscalreny’s economy relies on tourism. The rural house Rústic Vilella has been working very well for the past years. "Obviously we had to close during Easter and this has meant losing some money that we won't recover, but some customers have already asked us to reschedule their reservation," explains Orio Baños, who is the owner of this rural accommodation.

Despite these inevitable losses, he remains quite optimistic about the approaching summer and autumn campaign: "We are lucky to not have a tourist season that only lasts for a few months," explains Baños, as they open during spring, summer, and autumn, as well as some winter months.

In addition, Rústic Vlilella doesn't depend on foreign tourism, in the same way that coastal areas do. "The truth is that our customers are basically families or couples without children in Barcelona who want to disconnect from the big city."

Surely many of these people are already escaping their tiny flats in the city to go and visit places like Rústic Viella. And, during the lockdown, a lot of them probably wished they lived in a small town like Gisclareny or Sant Agustí.

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  • The village of Gisclareny, the smallest in Catalonia, May 12, 2019 (by Estefania Escolà)

  • The village of Gisclareny, the smallest in Catalonia, May 12, 2019 (by Estefania Escolà)

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