Children returning to Spain’s streets after lockdown eased

By Victoria Moreno

Madrid, May 13 (efe-epa).- Six-year-old Zöe González could barely contain her excitement as she fastened up the straps of her helmet and grabbed her scooter before leaving her home for the first time in over a month and a half.

She is just one of the six million children in Spain who are finally allowed outside again after being forced to spend over six weeks stuc k at home under one of Europe’s strictest shutdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“Zöe was very excited because she really wanted to go outside. The first thing she asked was if we could go to see her grandmother,” Evelyn Bestilleiro, Zöe’s mother, tells Epa-Efe.

Bestilleiro was convinced that after almost 50 days locked up in their flat in Madrid, her child would forget security rules during the walk but, on the contrary, “she was really careful, she didn’t touch anything and kept herself away from others.”

Keeping a minimum distance of 2 meters between people and wearing face masks if possible are among the key rules during the gradual lockdown de-escalation, as well as maintaining children’s play areas closed.

The first dose of fresh air was followed by an immediate sense of terror, “it was like being in an apocalyptic movie” since “the trees’ roots have grown beneath the sidewalk,” Bestilleiro says.

She was surprised to see how much grass had grown in the nearby park and “how abandoned the streets were, full of leaves and pollen.”

Spain allowed children under the age of 14 to go outside again for the first time at the end of April, as the government began loosening strict nationwide restrictions amid declining numbers of deaths and infection rates.

Kids were soon followed by teenagers and adults who, since 2 May, have been allowed to go out for walks within a one-kilometre radius of their home and go for runs within their town or city— gyms are expected to be fully open but limited to 30 per cent capacity in Phase 3.

Allowing children to go outside once per day was a first step for the ‘new normalcy’: life after Covid-19.

“Kids have to go out because the physical movement is one of their basic needs. They need to move their bodies, run, jump and have contact with nature,” Cecilia Martín Sánchez, psychologist and director of Psicode, says.

But Martín insists that following the epidemiologists’ criteria on avoiding deaths is more of a priority than attending to children’s needs, referring to parents and paediatricians who were pressuring authorities to relax the ban on children under 14 leaving the house.

For parents whose babies were born amid lockdown, going outside meant a sense of genuine liberation after long, consecutive days and weeks of diaper changes and midnight bottle feeding.

“It was thrilling, I had a real sense of freedom,” says Raquel Fernández, mother of baby Hugo, who was born on March 13, just one day before the Spanish government declared the state of alarm.

Almost two months after arriving at home from the hospital, Hugo was finally allowed to go for his first outing.

“For the first time, he didn’t refuse to stay in the pram. At home he never wanted it. Fresh air and different noises and sensations were great for him, he seemed to be quite relaxed,” says Fernández, who also confesses being scared of going outside at the beginning.

This single mother decided to spend the lockdown in her parents’ house, where now there are 5 people living together, including her 88-year-old grandmother.

Gatherings and social interactions, such a fundamental part of Spanish life, are also crucial for children, experts say, as they need to spend time with other kids and their closest relatives.

“A lack of social contact makes people feel sad and down. For children, social contact is even more important than for adults since it’s key for their development,” Martín points out.

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