‘It felt too fast’: Students living in Italy and Spain on what life’s like post-lockdown

It’s not as good as it sounds

As much as we pined for our lives back and wanted restrictions to ease, people in the UK are quickly realising that lockdown being lifted doesn’t mean we’re returning to normality. Not by any stretch. First off, not everywhere is back – we’re still missing the staple British messy nights out and gyms that we pay money to never attend. What’s more is these may never return in the way we knew it. Three girls pissing in one toilet cubicle, propping yourself up at the bar and making out with some stranger on the dancefloor you’ll never – and don’t want to – learn the name of are all things of the past. Nothing’s going back to the way we missed it, and no one knows that quite like people living in Italy and Spain.

Months ago, Italy and Spain were pitied, looked at with mourning and worry. Then the UK realised they were only an example of what was to come. THEN the UK realised that it had fucked up so phenomenally that we were actually due to be in for so, so much worse. Now we’re watching as they enjoy a second month out of lockdown, with open pools, gyms and clubs. Masks are obligatory everywhere but the beach – but not everyone is wearing them. For this reason, they’re still anxious about a second lockdown. Being free is blissful, but terrifying too. We spoke to a few of the students enjoying the freedom while they can.

‘Going outside for the first time was one of the best moments of my life’

Abbie is a Northumbria student living in Madrid for her year abroad. She was marooned there in lockdown, but decided to stay when things started reopening. Before the 2nd May people living in Madrid were only allowed out to go to the supermarket. Abbie handled lockdown well, apart from one time where she cried in the supermarket because they didn’t have Oreos. She told The Tab: “One thing that’s quite nice is that the security guards in the supermarket always ask me how I am and how things are going post lockdown, but it’s embarrassing because I think the reason they recognise me is from when I cried.”

To begin with, the lockdown was only eased for a few hours a day. “We were only allowed out between 6-10am or 8-11 pm,” Abbie said. “But the first time I went outside was honestly up there as one of the best moments of my life.”

From then, Madrid had to pass through phases to leave lockdown, each one lasting a minimum of two weeks. During the first phrase you could see a few friends in their house but not in the park or on the street. Then parks and bars opened, but with set capacities. When determining whether progression could be made to the next phase, each region of Spain was assessed separately. Abbie told The Tab: “Obviously Madrid was really badly hit so we stayed in the lower phases for a lot longer than other parts of Spain. It was so tantalising to see my friends in the south, for example, seeing friends and going to the beach etc while I was still stuck in my flat!”

Then, on the 21st June, Madrid joined other Spanish rejoins in “the new normal”. Abbie says she’s been living pretty normally, apart from small differences: “A lot of shops wont let you use changing rooms, you have to wear masks everywhere and you have to put hand sanitiser on before going into any stores. We’ve not gone to any clubs and don’t really go to bars often just because it still feels a bit dodgy. The public pools are also open now but to a very very low capacity. I think the main way that I’m living differently is that I notice things a lot more… I’ll start to feel anxious if there’s a lot of people around or if I’m stood in a queue or something – things that I never would usually have thought about. But in general people are still quite respectful of the two metre rule.”

Abbie says being free feels unreal, almost like she’s doing something wrong when she makes plans – her head is still in “lockdown mode”.  While the general mood is high, there’s discontent in pockets: “People in Madrid are feeling let down by the government or the companies they work for. There have been a few protests, there was one today for example, workers from Renfe (a train company) are upset that they haven’t been able to work for so long.”

People in Madrid are still anxious, too. Abbie told The Tab she’s wary when people sit next to her on public transport, or if she’s seeing friends who have come over from England who haven’t quarantined for two weeks. “I think there will be a second lockdown,” she said. “I heard that the virus doesn’t like heat above 26 degrees and here in Madrid it’s not really been below 33 for the last month, but I think in the northern parts there could be a problem and also in the rest of Spain when the weather cools down. A part of Galicia (North West Spain) has actually gone back into lockdown.”

‘It’s too hot for people to wear masks’

Ana is a University of Reading student studying in Siena, in Italy. She lived there throughout the whole of lockdown, just pacing around her room and trying to get some enjoyment out of living in one small space. Things started opening up in Siena around the second week of May, but people took to it gradually – there was no sudden rush to restaurants and bars. Ana told The Tab: “It definitely took time for people to start going out. The first week of things opening up was very strange, only certain amount of people were allowed in the shops and the people that worked there were very strict. Some places take your temperature, you always have to wear mask and gloves and you really didn’t want to be in the shop for too long, so in all honesty it wasn’t enjoyable. But a week or two after that the restaurants and bars were definitely busier and there is a lot of life again in the city which is really nice to see.

Bars and restaurants were given permission to add extra tables to outside areas, spilling into the street, and gyms reopened. “I was apprehensive about [gyms opening] to begin with,” Ana told The Tab, “but a lot of them required a health check before being able to start again and all the equipment was constantly sanitised so it felt like the cleanest it had been in years.

“It’s weird as things went from one extreme to another just in a space of day. We went from not being allowed outside at all – only once a week for food shopping – to the other extreme of going outside, eating out, exercising. I remember the first few days I would be walking down the street out of breath because for the past two months, I had only been doing home workouts and walking around my small flat.

“At the beginning I was a bit worried, everything felt like it was happening to fast and too soon but after a week I got into the swing of things and felt completely fine. Everything’s been pretty much back to normal for over two months now, so I’m beginning to forget what it used to be like. I do think that my worries will come back when I eventually go back to the UK.”

Ana is fully aware that a second lockdown could be imposed at any point. “People are starting to massively let their guard down,” she told The Tab. “It is still compulsory to wear a mask in Italy but in 34-degree heat walking around wearing one is really uncomfortable and you don’t see that many people wearing it properly anymore, just on their chin. But when you do go inside to a shop or a restaurant everyone does wear it.

“Now our life is all about learning to live with the virus, the main point of lockdown was to be able to regulate the amount of infections and now that they are managing to do that it’s time to adapt to learn to live your life with the virus around.”

‘We’ll never go back to normal’

Isaac is living in Barcelona, and spent his lockdown in his two bed flat with his housemate. He’s now very grateful he can finally leave the flat, and exist in more than just a few rooms. He told The Tab: “Many in Barcelona have no windows in their flat and this includes many families. People really just wanted to be in a space that wasn’t their homes.

“When things first opened up it was a weird thing to not fully know the restrictions and it seemed like nobody cared about the masks, even though it was very apparent that it is not to protect ourselves, but to protect others. The main difference now is that the masks became obligatory – you have to wear them everywhere but the beach. This seems to be a tactical move for tourists to come back and keep people ‘safe’. The stats in Catalonia are showing that this may not be working as the numbers are higher again, especially compared to other parts of Spain.

“Since lockdown lifted I’ve managed to get out of the city and find some peace in the beautiful parts of Catalonia I have yet to be able to see as I only arrived just months before Covid-19 hit Spain. Regulations allow for less restrictive measures at the beach with masks and of course this is where we are most days with many still not back at work or still losing their employment.”

Isaac says that the countrywide mood was uplifted as soon as the phases of de-escalation kicked in and people could reunite, go to bars and a swim in the morning. “But,” he notes, “normality is never going to be the same. We should be aiming to improve, as we have gone too far with our planet’s resources, our lack of sharing and allowing the capitalist system to continue.

“We can and should be doing more though, our world leaders are not taking real responsibility for their role to implement changes from the very system that is supposedly designed to make change to laws and regulations. If the new normal is to care about others, to recognise and call out for change of corrupt leaders and governing systems, then I’m in.”

Isaac worries about the risk of a second lockdown which he says “is looking pretty likely”. “I have heard a lot of talk,” he told The Tab: “I don’t know for sure but three regions got put back into lockdown within 24 hours of the statistics showing more positive tests last week. Perhaps after a boost in the economy we will find out how the government feel towards the statistics. For now we should be fighting for Black Lives Matter because this has not passed and there aren’t enough voices. The murderers of George Floyd are being released thanks to donations and the murderers of Breonna Taylor are walking free still. The silence is deafening to me. Our short attention span is being taken advantage of, not only in this area but also in Boris Johnson’s actions towards Dominic Cummings and so on. Demand change, because the last thing the world needs is to ‘go back to normal’.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Forget about 2020 for just one second and relive every iconic moment of summer 2018

These 21 memes about the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme are as wild as the idea itself

Coronavirus hasn’t actually put people off applying to uni, new stats show