Late on Monday, March 9, Spanish officials announced that they would be closing schools in the capital city of Madrid and the surrounding region for two weeks, starting Wednesday.
This measure comes after the number of people infected by COVID-19 in the region doubled in a 24-hour period over the weekend. Other regions in Spain are also taking steps to stem the growing number of cases.
Spain’s neighbor to the east, Italy, has already implemented a nationwide lockdown as its total number of cases is topped only by that of China. Other European countries are also working to prevent recent outbreaks from worsening within their borders.
Spanish school closings
On Monday night, authorities in Madrid announced that all schools in the region would be closed. The closure starts on Wednesday and will continue for two weeks. The closures affect more than 1.5 million students, from early education to university level.
Madrid was not the only region reacting to the spread of COVID-19. In the Basque Country, the cities of Vitoria and Labastida were also closing all schools. The Basque Country and Madrid are considered transmission hubs for the disease, which originated in the Wuhan region of China but has now become a global pandemic.
In Spain, the number of infections has grown to 2,277 cases, with 55 deaths.
On Monday, the nation’s health minister, Salvador Illa, recommended that people work from home if possible.
The story in Spain continued to evolve on Tuesday. Spain added the region of La Rioja, one of the nation’s main wine producers, to the list of transmission hubs. In addition to school cancellations in all three regions, public gatherings of more than 1,000 people have been prohibited.
Teachers affected by school closings
Despite schools in Madrid closing, many teachers were still expected to go to their respective schools to work. For many, the requirement to still travel to their schools, often by public transportation, was a point of frustration.
On Tuesday, the Millennial Source spoke with teachers who were bracing for the school closures. They spoke on the condition of anonymity, as they were not allowed to speak on behalf of their schools.
One teacher at a private school described the situation on Tuesday as “hectic”, saying, “It was quite short notice. The school had been anticipating a closure at some point but didn’t expect it to happen so soon. So we spent the lessons telling the kids what materials to take home and setting them work to do.”
She said the kids were hyper but receptive to what was happening, but for teachers, “the atmosphere was quite unsettled.”
She also expressed frustration with being required to come into the school instead of being allowed to do remote learning from home.
“It feels like they don’t care about our health and so many of us gathering in one space and getting public transport.”
Spain is also host to roughly 2,500 Americans and Canadians who work as “auxiliares”, or cultural ambassadors, in Spanish schools. Many of these ambassadors, who are placed in elementary and secondary schools throughout the country to teach English and be teacher assistants, will be required to arrive at their schools amid the closures as well.
An American teacher who works at an English academy in the south of Madrid said the situation was chaotic for the language academies. Such schools are not required to close, so the language academies are making the decision whether to stay open or not on their own.
The teacher said that they would likely continue to go to work as normal. Asked about how the coronavirus epidemic would affect his life, he said, “For now, I plan to keep having a normal life as much as possible (going to the gym, grocery store, using the metro).”
The coronavirus spreads through Europe
Italy has taken perhaps the most drastic action in Europe so far, with 60 million inhabitants put on lockdown. This comes at a time when more than 12,400 cases of the virus have been found in the country and the death toll has climbed to 827.
Instead of restricting specific villages or regions with quarantines, all of Italy has been placed on a travel restriction. Residents of Italy have been told that travel is only permitted for work, health reasons, or in the case of urgent matters.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, three of the country’s major airlines, British Airways, Ryanair, and easyJet, had already canceled many flights to Italy. However, on Tuesday, March 10, British Airways announced that they were canceling all flights to Italy. There have been 456 cases in the UK and eight deaths.
France is the European country with the second highest number of COVID-19 cases, with 2,281 confirmed cases as of Wednesday evening. Included among the infected is French Culture Minister Franck Riester.
In an effort to stop the spread of the disease, which has killed 48 in France, the country has banned all public gatherings.