Selina Heathcote, originally from Warkworth, moved to Spain six years ago with her boyfriend, Jamie, to experience life in a different culture.
They love the Catalan way of life but socialising late into the night in bars and restaurants has been off the agenda in recent times due to coronavirus.
“People live much more on top of each other here than in the UK,” said Selina. “Most people live in apartment blocks and spend a lot of time socialising out on the streets.
“And we always greet each other with two kisses. It’s a very tactile society. Perfect for virus spreading.”
Coronavirus took hold in Spain some two to three weeks before it did in the UK. Almost 24,000 people have died there.
“It followed the same pattern as in a lot of places,” she said. “To begin with we didn’t take it too seriously, then the infection rate and death toll started jumping dramatically day after day and we realised we were dealing with a crisis.”
She says there have been key differences between the Spanish and UK approach to restricting its spread.
“From day one it has been much stricter than in the UK,” said Selina. “We aren’t allowed out for exercise – only to the supermarket or pharmacy (although apparently that will change next week). Children weren’t allowed out for any reason until this past Sunday.
“The bars and restaurants were shut down immediately which is a huge deal here. The culture revolves around sitting on terraces, chatting with friends over a beer and eating out.
“It’s a very weird experience to see the normally crowded streets deserted – and no tourists!
“We were amazed at how relaxed the UK government seemed in the beginning. The herd immunity approach and keeping bars and restaurants open were in direct contrast to what we were experiencing. It was frustrating to watch – we knew what was coming your way.
“On the other hand the UK government has been much quicker to announce financial aid and support packages for different groups. It’s still a mess here.
“The Spanish government could have acted much faster. They let huge events like the Women’s March take place the week before lockdown, and thousands of (Atletico) Madrid fans were allowed to travel to Liverpool for a Champions League match.
“When (Prime Minister) Pedro Sanchez did eventually announce the lockdown it wasn't brought into effect for 24 hours, giving people the chance to disperse across the country to relatives’ or holiday homes – spreading the virus much further and faster.”
She says community spirit throughout has been amazing with applause for key workers every evening.
“We’re coming up to two months in total lockdown and people are tired but there is a sense of cautious optimism,” she said. “The death toll seems to be under control, but the real worry now is how Barcelona and Spain will recover financially.”
“The nice thing is I can hear the birds singing. Barcelona is a very polluted city and the air is noticeably clearer. Not quite up to Northumberland standards, mind!”