Alison McGearty from Castlerahan, pictured in Seville, Spain. She is the daughter of Michelle Boyle and Sean McGearty and also has three other siblings at home in Castlerahan - her older sister Christine and two younger brothers Thomas and Sean Óg.

‘Stay positive’ says local girl on lockdown in Seville

Young Castlerahan woman Alison McGearty is studying abroad in Seville. The daughter of Michelle Boyle and Sean McGearty from Garryross, Alison is in her third year studying Politics and International Relations with Spanish in University College Dublin but has been in Seville on Erasmus since September as part of her degree. She has now being living on lockdown for over a month in one of the European countries worst affected by Coronavirus and talks to Linda O'Reilly from there...

What stage of your studies are you at? Are you managing to complete your modules/exams etc remotely?
To make my degree international, I am studying in Spain for the year, and will return to UCD in September for final year. My Erasmus is in Seville, the capital city of Andalucía in the south of Spain. Since the lockdown, my modules are all online. Spanish universities are not renowned for organisation and the transfer has not been very smooth. It is still unclear about exams, but it looks like we will do online assessment. I know given the circumstances UCD will be more understanding and will provide another option of assessment.

Do you now regret not coming home before flights were grounded? Tell us why?
I made the decision not to come home because I love Sevilla and I could not face leaving so early. Flights shot up to €400 the week they announced quarantine and, as there were only two flights a week, some students were going via Portugal or Madrid to get home. I understood why everyone was leaving but I felt that it was best to avoid excessive travelling and potentially contracting and spreading the virus. Since I live here and I have a nice apartment, I think that tourists were more of a priority to leave. At the time, we did not predict just how much the situation would spiral, or just how high the death toll would be here. Now, a month later, I sometimes would prefer to be home with my family. However, I think either way it’s a difficult situation, so I don’t regret my choice and I don’t feel sorry for myself. I also know the celebrations in Spain after will be special.

Describe a typical day on lockdown in Spain?
Lockdown here is very strict and we are completely limited in what we can do. We really spend the whole day in the apartment, so I try to keep busy and have a routine. I think it's so important to make small things feel more important, even if it's just making dinner or watching a film.
I do my college work and teach English classes online. At eight every evening, everyone claps on the balconies in support for healthcare workers. This is followed by the Spanish anthem.
At nine, everyone bangs pots and pans on the balcony to protest about a recent scandal involving the king, although I have also heard some people do it out of general dissent towards the government’s actions during the crisis.
Throughout the evening Spanish music is played on a speaker, and people come out the on the balconies to chat to neighbours. This week was Semana Santa, which is so important in Sevilla, so people hung banners on their balconies and played hymns. Its eerie seeing a deserted city, but there is also sense of solidarity amongst neighbours.

Are you living alone, or do you have company in your accommodation? How are you coping?
Thankfully, I have great company. I know friends living alone and I think that would be hard. There are six people in my apartment now - an Italian couple, two English guys and one Singaporean guy. It's very strange; most people are quarantined with their families in their own homes, but I only moved into this apartment in February, so I hadn’t known my housemates for that long and I’m getting to know them during quarantine.
My housemates are lovely people, the atmosphere is very positive and the time has gone by a lot faster than I expected. On Saturdays, we have different themed parties and we will have an Easter celebration together. The quarantine has made me really think about home, and what it means to different people, and I know I am so lucky.

Are you in a built-up area, can you get out for walks at least?
I live in the middle of the city; it is the most popular area for eating and going out. We cannot go for walks or take any exercise. People with dogs can take them out for a short walk but that’s all. The police regularly patrol and they stop to question people or pull over cars with more than one person. The last thing you want is this, firstly because Spanish police are not exactly friendly and secondly because fines can be up to €600 or they arrest people for more serious offences. There have already been nearly 2,000 arrests so far and over 60,000 fines. In a complete parallel universe, everyone wants to take out the bins, and I have heard of people letting neighbours use their dogs as an excuse to go for a quick walk.

Are the restrictions in Spain similar to those in Ireland?
One of the things that struck me most was how fast quarantine restrictions came into place here compared to Ireland. On Thursday, we were in college and everyone was working on Friday. There definitely was not as much emphasis on self-quarantine here. There were less people around but everything operated as normal.
By Saturday of that week, the full lockdown was imposed, and the city came to an abrupt standstill. We did not have the same gradual quarantine measures that Ireland had.
The quarantine here is much stricter, since we cannot leave the house unless it's necessary. There have been checkpoints since the first day so people could not leave the city to go to country houses.
Shared public spaces are off limits completely. I have heard of neighbours informing the police because of children playing on the grass beside their apartments, and the police came to my friend’s house because a neighbour suspected they had guests over. We never had to practice social distancing because the quarantine enforced it, so we had no choice.

Do you feel the Spanish authorities are dealing with the crisis well? How do you feel the response in Ireland compares?
I think the strict quarantine is necessary because the situation is so serious, they really had to take these measures. However, if they had acted sooner, they could have avoided this. I know a lot of people are frustrated at how strict the quarantine is because it is a result of the initial failure to act. On top of that, the hospitals were completely unprepared and struggled massively. The most worrying thing will be if things don’t improve in the coming weeks. It has dropped now from 900 deaths a day to about 600, but it’s still a long way off. I think in Ireland there was a better approach in terms of predicting the threat and reacting in time, which is reflected in the number of cases and deaths. There also seemed to be a lot more initial correspondence with the public.

When do you hope to return home now?

I don’t know when I will return home and it’s very hard to predict. Initially it was supposed to be June but it really all depends on when travel is okay again. I want to spend some time here once the quarantine ends but, since there is no exact date, I cannot tell.

What do you most miss about Cavan while you are away?
I never thought I would miss Cavan a lot until now. I almost feel like I miss the small everyday things the most, like going to football matches and meeting my friends. I miss living in the countryside and swimming in the lake with my mam. We always swam in Lough Ramor no matter how cold it was. Since it's Easter, I especially miss being with my family. It’s strange that for once they are all home together and I am not there with them.

What's the first thing you'd like to do with friends and family when you return to celebrate, hopefully, us all having overcome this pandemic?
I think when things have returned to normal, I will have to have a party to see everyone. The quarantine has really made us all very unsociable, so I want to make up for that after.

Lastly, is there anything else you would like to say?
I hope that everyone is staying safe and doing their best to get through the quarantine without going mad. I think there’s so much negative news, especially online, that it can be hard to see an end to it all, but it’s important to stay positive. It is an eye-opening experience for a lot of us, and I hope we all come out of this more appreciative for everything we have.