As a Dutch woman living in Spain I have been living in two different worlds that are both in a huge transformation, but in a very different way. I have been wondering why there are so many differences between Spain and the Netherlands in the way the corona virus is spreading, and also in the different ways the governments and the populations are dealing with this crisis.
It has made me sometimes feel exhausted because it feels as if I have to translate these two worlds to myself, and to others, to make sense of it all. My way of dealing with these situations is to be curious, and to write a blog about it.
In Spain we have been in a complete lockdown for three weeks, with three weeks more to go (until April 26). The economy is at a standstill, because all employees who are working in non-essential professions have to stay at home. If you go out on the street without a very good reason you risk a huge fine. Yet the amount of people who have been infected and who have died went up with a staggering speed. It is only since a few days that the curve is stabilising, and only a day that the curve is flattening.
According to the English version of the newspaper El País on April 6: “The downward trend of daily deaths from the coronavirus continued on Sunday, with the latest number falling to 674, according to official figures supplied by the Health Ministry. This marks a fall of 135 compared to Saturday, which saw 809. Sunday’s figure is the lowest seen in 10 days. The highest total so far was reported on April 2, with 950 fatalities from Covid-19 in a 24-hour period.”
In the Netherlands, I see that all my friends can still go out in nature. There are rules for social distancing, but there is no complete lockdown. Yet the curve has been stabilising and flattening already for a few days. Up until now the hospitals are still able to help all the corona patients, while in Spain hospital staff is completely overwhelmed, and traumatised.
What is going on?
How come there are so many differences between Spain and the Netherlands, while the virus is the same? I have been following the news in Spain and the Netherlands, and also a few discussions on Facebook, and came up with the following reasons:
- A football club in Valencia went to Bergamo (Italy), where many people had been infected, and players and supporters brought the virus back to Spain.
- On March 8 there were a huge demonstrations in Madrid and other cities for international women’s day, and the virus started to spread even more.
- There is a new socialist government in Spain, with little experience, and with a strong opposition from right wing political parties. The Spanish government has been slow in taking the measures for slowing down the spread of the virus.
- Due to the political situation with different autonomous regions within one national state, there is much more bureaucracy than in other countries, which all takes up time.
- When it became clear that there would be a lockdown, people could still travel and they did on a large scale (for example, students going home, or people traveling to their summer houses), spreading the virus from Madrid to other regions.
- In Spain the healthcare system is decentralised over the different regions. After the declaration of the state of alarm, people working for the national institutions had no experience in buying protective materials on the international market. Many health workers got infected as a result.
- Over the last years there have been many cuts in budgets for hospitals and other healthcare institutions. I also read in a newspaper that people who worked in an emergency hospital in Madrid described the management as ‘a disaster’.
- There is a difference in the way Spanish (and Italian) people treat elderly people, and often they live together in the same house, so there is more risk.
Group culture versus individualism
I think one of the most important reasons is the difference between Spain and the Netherlands in how we connect to each other. In the Netherlands social distancing is easier than in Spain. Dutch people are used to spending time indoors, surrounded by a small group of family and close friends, while in Spain everyone likes to go out with as many people as they can.
If you organise a meeting with a friend in the Netherlands, this friend shows up and you have a 1-on-1 conversation. In Spain you make an appointment with one person, but you will probably end up with more people, because everyone is bringing their friends. When you meet these friends of friends, you give everyone 2 kisses, while in the Netherlands we would automatically put some distance between ourselves and strangers. Spain has a group culture, while in the Netherlands people function on a more individualistic level.
In the beginning of the crisis I was glad to be in Spain, because it was all so much more clear what we needed to do to stop this crisis. We were all in this together. While I was already locked up inside my house, my friends in the Netherlands were still discussing what was and what was not acceptable in way of social distancing.
Now I am far less happy, because while my Dutch friends can go out in nature, I have to remain inside. After three weeks I miss nature more than I can say. Staying inside my house is sometimes almost unbearable, and I am used to spending time indoors, behind my computer. I can only imagine what this must be like for people who are not used to staying indoors, and who have to share a small space with many people.
The need for compassion
My heart bleeds for Spain, for all the families who have lost relatives; for the people in hospitals and homes who have to work under difficult circumstances and who will come out of this crisis exhausted and traumatised; for the Spanish people who have to stay inside their houses when they are so used to going out; and for all the people who loose their income during this crisis.
Some people say that something good will come out of this crisis and maybe it does, but in the meantime I get so sad when I read about the rise in domestic violence. We need hope and trust, but we also need to see the darkness this is right in front of us, without any form of spiritual bypassing. For anyone who knows anything about trauma and how to heal from it, there is a huge task in front of us. Let’s use this time of quarantine to prepare for this task and think of ways in which we can support each other, before we start thinking of changing the whole world.
Ellen de Dreu