The coronavirus in Spain: How we’re dealing with it

The coronavirus in Spain How we’re dealing with it

The coronavirus in Spain: How we’re dealing with it

Go to the bottom of the post for updates

March 13, 2020

Jeez, how quickly things change. We are now being asked not to leave our apartment except for essentials.

A week ago I was getting emails about the coronavirus, people worried for us, some wanting to know our plans, others ask for our advice on what they should do about their own travel plans. I was telling people to cancel their plans which was what this post was supposed to be about. It’s no longer about that, cancelling travel plans is a no-brainer now.

On Wednesday (2 days ago) we left Valencia. Up to that point there wasn’t much on the coronavirus. The city was gearing up for the Fallas festival, fireworks were going on every day in the main square (thousands upon thousands congregating to watch them). The only real sign of the coronavirus was the old age home across the street from where we were staying. 10 days ago seniors were in the park, playing pétanque or sitting on benches. A week later the doors of the old age home were closed, a sign on the door, no seniors to be seen outside.

Yesterday (Thursday) you could feel everything change in the news. Country after country was closing its borders. We learned Valencia had postponed Fallas (to July). Festivals and activities everywhere were being cancelled. Madrid closed down bars, restaurants, gyms.

For us, the biggest fear is being stuck with no place to go. We have no home anywhere. Luckily we had booked a very comfortable apartment in Leon. We asked our host if we could extend our stay. We have. We’ll be in Leon until early April.

Today government offices were closed when we walked around. There is a sense of worry in the air. The tourist office, open when we arrived 2 days ago, was closed with a sign on the door.

When we arrived back in the apartment a few hours ago we heard that the government had imposed astate of alertfor 15 days. It’s not a “state of emergency” but does put some restrictions in place (to be detailed in the next few hours/day I’m sure).


How we’re dealing with the Coronavirus

We’ve talked over the last week, figuring out how to deal with it when the inevitable happened.

We wondered for a second whether we should cancel our Spanish plans and go home to Canada. But without a “home” in Canada it was a fleeting thought.

For those who don’t know, we’re planning on applying for the Spanish non-lucrative residence visa and we have been in Spain: 1) to find a city where we can see ourselves living in the future 2) to get some of the Spanish documents we need to start the application process.


Then we considered our health insurance, which is I think the most important thing to consider for anyone at this time. We signed up just 3 weeks ago with Spanish health insurance (one of the steps of the non-lucrativo). So we’ve got private coverage here and healthcare in Spain is good. On the other hand, we no longer have health coverage in Canada because we’ve been away from the country too long. Our Spanish coverage would work for us in Canada (up to 3 months) and in theory we can get our Canadian coverage back if we were there for 6 months.

Logic dictated that we’re better off in Spain. But even we didn’t think the “inevitable” would happen so quickly. 

Update: What I understand from the “state of alarm” declared this afternoon is that we are in a state of strongly-suggested lockdown. We are only allowed essential outings (groceries, pharmacy, police). Only essential travel in Spain is allowed.



Our plans (??)

Theoretically we are supposed to fly to Canada sometime in April. We haven’t bought tickets yet and really have no idea IF we will be able to fly out. Imagine, all the above has happened in 2 days. Who knows what’s going to happen over the next 3 weeks…

We just received notice that all reservations to this apartment have been cancelled. Our host won’t kick us out, she’s allowing us to stay as long as needed. I think this was our major worry. I think the most important thing right now is for everyone to hunker down until at least things get clearer….

Another thing we did today was to register with the Canadian government as Canadians abroad. They now know where we are. I would recommend to anyone stuck in lockdown to do the same with their own government.

So for now until early April (at least) we’ll be mostly confined to our apartment. We found “Game of Thrones” on a pirate site and intend on splurging on it. I’ll catch up on some internet stuff. For those who’ve written us thank you. We’re ok 🙂


Update: Lockdown diary Tuesday March 17

Update: Lockdown diary Tuesday March 24 (day 11)

Update: Lockdown diary Tuesday March 31 (day 18)

Update: Lockdown diary Tuesday April 14, (day 32)

Related: How will the Coronavirus change the way we travel? 


  1. Thanks for your perspective, Frank. We’re in a similar situation here in Montpellier, France, where things have been locked-down since noon on Tuesday. At least we have a nice apartment with lots of windows and good views of the empty streets!

    It occurs to me that us “slow travelers” and ex-pats have a unique view, as outsiders of the culture looking in. There’s an opportunity here to observe and document… well, actually, that’s what we do anyway! But still, these are interesting times. Looks like my future blogs will be about how people–including us!–are coping. Things here in France are much like you describe in Spain. People are respectful and pretty disciplined, leave space while lining up; no craziness. The long lines at the markets are gone, now that everyone has stocked up. (Items that were in short supply were pasta and flour; with no cafes or restaurants it’s clear folks must be cooking more!) Hand gel is still hard to find, though.

    We’ve been exploring the “virtual cocktail hour,” checking in with friends, drinks in hand, via FaceTime or Skype. That’s fun. Something to look forward to at the end of the day! Oh, and last night we were out on our balcony at 8PM to applaud health care workers. Participation was tepid, but I think it will improve.

    May you and Lissette stay healthy, take care of yourselves, and not go stir crazy!

    1. I love that idea of the ‘virtual cocktail hour’ Paul. What a nice thing to do. Also nice to see the French also applauding the health care workers. Makes you feel good about human kind.

      Take care. Sounds like you guys are in good shape as we are. Send our greetings to Paula 🙂

  2. Thanks for the update. Our thoughts have been with you.

    Our oldest kid is in Canada and it seems imminent that the university will close the residence. Classes already transitioned to online.

    Our middle kid was finishing high school in Switzerland. But the school closed a few days before the country shut down everything. All the kids were sent back to Canada.

    Kid 3 is the only one with us here in Kyiv. Ukraine seems to be in good shape so far. Proactive.

    I’m a bit heart sick right now. By the time I committed to abandoning my husband here, we were SOL for flights. Fortunately we do have friends back in Canada we can rely on to look after them.

    Take care!

    P.S. Can you email me the Game of Thrones link? (Insert smile)

  3. I am a flight attendant in the US and have domestic routes right now. My airline is still flying from US to/ from some destinations in Europe. Today I read that the health experts say that you have to be displaying symptoms to spread it to another (this is their thinking today….from what they know….but said it could change). I have a higher immunity to illnesses probably as people have been licking their fingers then giving me things, they’ve handed me dirty diapers (she said it was “only pee”, tissues and napkins directly after blowing their nose/wiping their mouth, I’ve seen pax cough all over and not cover their mouths. It’s actually nice right now to work, as people are being more respectful right now, our planes are cleaner than I’ve seen since the early 90’s, there is calmness on the plane. It’s nice (similar to after 9/11). I know people will get back to their jerky ways…..but for now, it is nice. I am praying for our world in every way.
    PS I understand some of your feelings right now, I was stuck (was on vacation in VCE and leaving the next morning when 9/11 hit). Strange times.

    Thank you for updating us.

    1. Hi Malinda,
      Thanks for a flight attendants perspective. I’d love one day to interview a flight attendant for the blog, must have some great stories.
      Well, I’ve read you CAN pass on the virus without displaying symptoms. Some people have very minor responses to it, especially if they have a strong immune system. So I’d be very careful, there’s a lot of contradictory information.
      Thank you very much for the comment and your perspective. Yes, I wish everyone was always respectful. Flights attendants have my utter respect.

  4. Good idea.
    Thank goodness, you’re in a nice apartment with your own private space. It would have been quite awful if you were in a hotel and got stuck there!

    I’m a British expat in Berlin, but I’ve been living here for 20 years so Germany is my home and to be honest with you, I wouldn’t want to be in the UK at the moment, as it’s a mess.

    Germany has closed all schools and many establishments, but movement hasn’t yet been restricted, although I have the feeling it’s coming sooner, rather than later.
    Either way, we’re prepared to #FlattenTheCurve.

    Stay safe.

    1. Hi Victoria,
      Good to know what’s going on in Germany. Yes, I’m sure it’s coming. I guess the biggest takeaway was just how quick it all happened here. So I would just tell anyone to prepare to be locked down. No need to panic because it’s all about containing the spread – but people have to be prepared that they’ll be asked to stay home for a while. Here the hashtag is #YoMeQuedoEnCasa (translated #I’mStayingHome). They’ve defined the restrictions of the State of Alert and you can only go out for essentials. On the 1st day here they were calling people off the beach and those jogging and telling them to stay home. From here on in there will be large fines.

      So not much to do but could be a whole lot worse.

  5. Hi Frank and Lissette, how incredible that you gave me superb advice (I did try to cancell with Lufthansa but no luck. However, the group I was to join in Poland can’t go either, so I’ll have to wait and see)….and here you are, what a predicament. I truly thought of you when I heard that Spain joined this Corona madness, but glad you are temporarily settled. You are right advising others not to fly. Lots of stories to tell about the buying madness and toilet paper, you can’t find any in the stores and I can’t stop laughing about it. You have to see it to believe. However, this is a serious matter and your remarks about the US being unprepered is scaring me. Most important stay safe and hunker down. If you can get Amazon prime, inventory there more extensive than Netflix, with some good historical dramas, I know you like. All the best to both.

    1. Thank you for the sweet message Sara.
      There’s a lot of shit talk coming from the US about Europe right now. Remember that it’s all about prevention. That’s why everyone is in lockdown. It’s not that everyone is sick and has to be quarantined. And honestly, it’s coming to the US, it’s the only way to avoid the inevitable and “flatten the curve“. So if I was there I would be preparing, which does not mean panic. Food stores, pharmacies, banks etc are open and I’m sure will be when it does happen there.. There is no panic here. The idea is to avoid it spreading. I’m actually impressed by the measures taken by the Spanish government over the last few days, the Spanish PM has been on the news a lot addressing the people and I think people are united behind it.
      In the meantime listening to the news here which is good practice for my Spanish. We couldn’t be in a better place.
      Take care Sara and Moishe.

  6. Well, you know how I feel about Leon. If you have to stay in one place, it’s a lovely place to be. Unfortunately, you won’t be out much, but still.

    Your assessment of US preparedness is spot on. Yesterday, the “president” told the nation that he absolutely takes no responsibility for the situation. I think that pretty much sums it up.

    The US is absolutely not prepared for the fallout. After the disastrous address to the nation on Wednesday night followed up by the horrendous press conference yesterday, state governments, business leaders, event planners and sports organizations are bypassing the “president” and taking matters in to their own hands. In Maryland, where we live, the governor closed all public schools for two weeks, activated the national guard, closed the Baltimore harbor to cruise ships, etc. and turned over all non-essential matters to the Lt. Gov. so the Governor can focus on the situation.

    Any numbers reported are false because there is no testing, very minimal. The “president” has been exposed but supposedly has not been tested, because as he says, he feels fine. This in turn has given all the naysayers permission to follow his lead and we all know what will happen. His only concern is the stock market which is what he’s basing his reelection on.

    I have no idea about the toilet paper and bottled water. Makes no sense to me whatsoever. Non-perishable pantry items and of course, wine, two cases along with a tub of jelly bellies and giant bags of popcorn. These are the things that matter. 🙂

    We have not been told to stay home, at least not yet, but we have stocked our pantry and for the most part we are hunkering down.

    And, wait for it, he will attempt to use the virus to delay the 2020 election. But that’s another story for another day.

    1. You’re Spanky’s little twin. She’s also stocking up on popcorn. Meanwhile I bought some nice wine bottles today.
      No pandamonium in the grocery store, was pretty much normal traffic. Have to say the Spanish government doing a good job giving out info on the news without the drama we’ve seen on the news from the US. I feel we’re in good hands here and we have the sweetest host.

      Good to know the behind the scenes at the state level in the US. Found out from some friends in Canada that they’re going through some of the same isolation measures. Basically the world is shut down for a while…it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out when it does.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. Indeed, the situation not just in Spain, but globally, seems to be changing from hour to hour!

    My partner and I are in a predicament almost identical to yours (Canadians who are looking to establish residence in Spain). We however, got 6- months of global insurance starting January.
    You sound as though you are more organized and further along the bureaucratic process of establishing residency In Spain. Bueno! Unlike my partner who has an Irish passport, I will have to take the investor visa route in order to attain residency rights.

    That litany aside, I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with a sound course of action regarding movement. You see, I MUST return to Toronto to collect my (quarterly) medications. Many of them are not prescribed in Europe, Middle East, and a vast majority of the world.

    I’m concerned that my 24-48 hour BCN-YYZ-BCN may:
    1) nullify my insurance policy. Once I return to Canada, my understanding is that it could be null and void once I hit Canadian soil; hence rejoining my partner and pug in BCN for our final 3-mos could be precarious and expensive health wise.
    2) risk the the safety of passengers the plane (and vice versa)
    3) potentially introduce it to the people I will invariably come into contact with once I land. It may only 24-hrs, and I WILL be masked and clad in lavender surgical gloves but is coming from a high risk zone, I am being selfish?

    While I present no symptoms, I think it’s the general understanding that asymptomatic people are possibly the great source of the spread as they move about unaware of the status and the danger they potentially pose to others.
    4) be stranded in Toronto (possibly under 14-day self quarantine) and potentially unable to rejoin my little family in Barcelona for an indeterminate period of time.

    Apologies for my imposing my long winded, first world problems upon you. i was hoping that your appreciation of the situation here in BCN/Spain over the past 48 hrs, your Canadian sensibility, our shared absence of residence in Canada if we were to return, and appealing to the the kindness that we Canadian are reputed to have, I was hoping to ask for your views on what you might do.

    If you were me and needed essential medication that you could not get
    in Barcelona, would you undertake that 48 hour BCN-YYZ-BCN JOURNEY -assuming everything from airline suspensions and border closures -could be eminent. this would have me separated from my pug and Partner who falls in the high-risk category in BCN. Or, would you stay put as public health policy advises and risk couriering medications illegally and illicitly (though medically legitimate) in 4-5 parcels via FedEx?

    My preference it to do the latter and self quarantine but it would be a misery for my husband as I go through the madness of withdrawal.

    APOLOGIES!!! A complete stranger seizes on your kindness and considerate post to your friends and family! I am sorry for this; what strange times. I am curious, if you have time to puzzle through someonelse’s predicament, what you might advise.
    With gratitude,

    insurance for the next 3-month.

    1. No problem at all. Your case very particular but I’ll give you my opinion.

      Firstly, the Canadian consulate here in Madrid has an emergency email: [email protected]

      I would NOT get on that plane, I would look into couriering the drugs you need. I don’t know the particulars of what they are and would suggest that you write the Canadian consulate…if the drugs are a requirement to your health maybe they’ll help.

      I think exceptions will be made in times like this. We are technically supposed to leave the Schengen the end of April but who knows? I’m fully prepared that we might have to stay longer and under the circumstances I’m pretty sure that won’t be an issue. In your case, depending on the drugs, I would take the chance. As long as you feel comfortable and justified in explaining why you absolutely needed them.

      But the last thing I would do is fly back because you never know. Being quarantined upon arrival would be a nightmare.

      Again, I don’t know the details so I recommend writing the embassy.

      Hope that helps a bit 🙂 Best of luck and feel free to let me know how it all works out.

  8. Scary times and things are only going to get worse, before they get better. I am glad you have a comfortable place to stay and wait further news. We are in Hanoi, our two nights cruise in Halong Bay has been cancelled and every tourist attraction is also closed here. Our flight home is from Bangkok on the 21st, so we decided to leave Vietnam tomorrow and stay few days at a beach resort near Bangkok, before our flight home…but all can change, since everywhere things are very volatile. Keep safe and enjoy Netflix, can I also suggest ” Travellers” as a very interesting series?

    1. We were actually thinking of you guys last night and wondering what the situation is like in Asia.
      All the best of luck, we’ll be keeping tabs on your FB page.
      PS. Have seen Travellers. I think Lissette has seen all of netflix.

  9. Is there panic buying of supplies or are you ok on that front? We are still up in the air about what to do but really can’t make any decisions until next week when we will leave the Galapagos and will be back to a place with decent internet access. Trying to decide between renting an apartment in Chicago for a couple of months and dealing with the empty grocery store shelves or trying to rent an apartment in mainland Ecuador for a chunk of time. Pros and cons to both. And, I really don’t see this blowing over any time soon. Hope I am wrong.

    1. Hey guys,
      I think you are right that this won’t be over anytime soon. I’m actually thinking that the US may be the worst prepared place and I would be nervous about any really big city. For all Trump’s talk I think the US is just a few weeks behind Europe with all this. Hope I’m wrong but it’s been appalling how the US administration has been dealing with this. They’re totally unprepared.
      I don’t know about Ecuador – but since you are going to the mainland I think just getting an apartment there, hunkering down, and avoiding any unnecessary travel is the way to go.

      1. Ps. No, haven’t seen panic buying. And I can’t figure out the logic behind panic buying of toilet paper. We have a bidet here, worst case I’ll use the shower. I’d buy pasta, rice, beans, etc…but they’re not going to shut down the food supply so it’s not something I’m worried about (and it hasn’t been an issue in Italy where they’ve had restrictions for a while).
        If you have some money to invest, I hear Pornhub traffic has gone through the roof with all this self-isolation…

        1. We completely agree with you about how the US is handling it. A complete disaster. And it isn’t just the government. Bars were apparently packed this weekend. On the good news front, if we do go back to the US we have a place in rural Wisconsin to stay and if we stay in Ecuador (which we might choose to do as Ecuador is being far more proactive than the US and might have to do with them closing the borders to arrivals) our Airbnb host has confirmed availability through the end of April. Stay safe!

          1. “Packed bars”. Oh wow. They’re just not telling people what’s what…let’s hope it all doesn’t blow up in their faces. I look at the US news and it’s all about what happening in other places and their own low numbers. But what people don’t say (unless you go to MSNBC) is that they’re not doing testing in the US. So what are the real numbers? And with health care in the US it could be ugly.

            Well, looks like you have a couple of very good options. I just honestly wouldn’t want to get on a flight, saw this article this morning. Look at all those people, jam-packed and waiting in line for hours. Perfect breeding ground. It’s f’ed up.

  10. Very uncertain times for sure and things change so fast! Our tickets to the Alcazar in Seville next Monday just got cancelled and I just read that Mezquita in Cordoba has also closed – I only booked the tickets this morning for our next week’s day trip! Not a big deal in the scheme of things. Hopefully in two weeks’ time, we can still move on as we have planned. Best of luck to you both!

      1. We actually have made all the bookings for the rest of the year and paid for (I’m a keen planner)! We are off to Split next at the end of March and yes flying out. So far Croatia hasn’t closed the border for travellers from Spain. Fingers crossed!!

  11. Glad to hear you are doing fine and all is settled there and you can stay. I have followed your blog for a few years, and have been wondering about you guys in this newest of developments. Best to you in this variation on an adventure!

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