Sisters flee Madrid, only to be stranded in Catalonia summer retreat

By Julia R. Arévalo

Madrid, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- Fleeing Madrid, the region of Spain that has been hit worst by the coronavirus, was far from being the end of the nightmare for two elderly sisters as the pandemic spread to the rest of the country, forcing authorities to confine people to their homes.

Cut off from the rest of their family, Carmen and Ana Ibáñez are now stranded in their summer retreat in Girona province, Catalonia, 700 km northeast of Madrid.

Initially, the idea behind fleeing the capital was to limit their risk of exposure to the coronavirus due to their already frail health, as they both suffer from lung disease. But the COVID-19 was moving fast and as drastic restrictions on people’s movements were introduced, a feeling of claustrophobia had settled in.

Pedro Sánchez’s government on Saturday decided to limit the movement of people for 15 days to the absolute essentials: to buy food, medicine and other essential goods, to take care of the elderly or go to the hospital or the bank.

But despite the escalation of cases nationwide, he rejected proposals by Catalonian pro-independence authorities to shut off their region from the rest of the country.

Carmen’s son works and lives in Barcelona, some 90 km. from the family summer retreat, and she plans to stay put, even if her third and elder sister, who stayed alone in Madrid, might also need help.

“No, we won’t return to Madrid. I normally come here time of year here, if only to avoid Madrid pollution and enjoy the better weather,” Carmen told EFE.

“I am really worried about my sister, who is all by herself, but my son is closer in Barcelona. We’ve asked our maid in Madrid not to show up for work, since there’s an extreme risk of contagion there.”

When they arrived last week, like everyone else, the sisters stocked up on food and other basic goods.

Despite the many public warnings, they were surprised to see dozens of people standing in line at the grocery stores without respecting the now mandatory safety distances or taking any other precautionary measures, such as wearing a mask or gloves.

However, the slightest sneeze or cough would immediately draw looks of alarm and an instinctive step backwards as people eyed each other with suspicion.

A week later, things have gone from bad to worse as the virus has spread, making Spain the fifth most affected country in the world with almost 8,000 cases, a jump of 2,000 in just one day.

Almost half of the infected – about 3,600 – are in the Madrid region, while Catalonia has the second highest concentration of cases of the disease, with 715.

Villagers in coastal areas in Catalonia, Valencia or Murcia, on the Mediterranean, have looked on this week with concern at how many people from Madrid were moving to their second homes to try and escape the emergency.

So the sisters made every attempt to keep a low profile, not wanting neighbors to suspect them of bringing the virus into the community.

Any sign of the slightest cold, common in winter, makes them wonder if this is “It’, and they frantically wash their hands with soap and alcohol all day long, cleaning surfaces with bleach, making sure that no germs can survive.

But Carmen is still afraid of getting sick.

“There’s hostility towards Madrilenians, they might think I also came on holidays, so I won’t dare call the doctor even if I don’t feel well,” she said.

“But we didn’t bring the virus, we have protected ourselves as we used to do even before.”

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