We’re in lockdown! But do people really know what that means and are the rules easy to understand (and break)?
One of the strictest quarantines in Europe is in Spain, where people can only leave home to buy food and medicines, walk the dog, go to the hospital or commute to work if absolutely necessary. Fines for infringement range from a very specific €601 to an eye-watering €30,000, and the police are not holding back in dishing them out.
Unlike most other European countries, physical exercise is banned in Spain, but what about exercising while commuting to work? The answer is no.
In the Basque Country, police threatened to fine a man for cycling to the factory where he works, on the basis that exercise is forbidden and therefore he should take public transport. The government’s emergency decree says cycling is allowed only in case of force majeure, but it doesn’t make clear what that would entail.
The cyclist would have been in even bigger trouble had he lived in Madrid, where Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida has said local police will have “zero tolerance” with those who say they are going to work but cannot produce a certificate signed by their employer to prove it.
María José, a nursing assistant in Madrid, was one of the unlucky ones. On Saturday, a police officer stopped her while she was on her way to deliver food to her elderly parents, and fined her for driving with her daughter in the car. She had complied with the rule that allows Spaniards to buy food as well as with the rule that requires them to always leave the house alone. But coming back from the supermarket she stopped to pick up her daughter — and paid the price.
“The police officer told me they were going to fine me because two people were not allowed to travel together at the front [of the car] and without a mask,” she told Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
You can’t exercise in Spain, but you can take your dog for a walk. Don’t try and take any other animals for a stroll, however, or you’ll be in trouble. Police have in recent days fined or warned people for walking a goat, a chicken and, er, a crab. Just to be clear, Catalan police have said the ban extends to canaries and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.
Spaniards aren’t deterred. You can fine a human, so the thinking goes, but surely you can’t fine a dinosaur! Sightings of dinosaurs (or, just maybe, people in dinosaur costumes) have been reported across the country throwing out the rubbish, roaming free … and being stopped by the police.
It’s not just in Spain that lockdown rules can be a problem. In Brussels, POLITICO Reporter Melissa Heikkilä had the most expensive croissant of her life when she was fined for stopping on a walk to eat one. Walks are “encouraged,” she was told, but you are not allowed to stop. The size of the fine? Between €250 and €500.
In the Netherlands, which is considered to have taken a more lax approach to the crisis than most, you can still celebrate your birthday with your three best friends, provided you keep enough distance when blowing out the candles. What if your house is too small to keep enough distance? Then you will have to cancel your party, according to Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus. “When we all get through this, we can give heaps of parties,” he said.
Staying in the Netherlands, a Dutch man who deliberately coughed in two police officers’ faces and shouted that he wanted to infect them with the coronavirus was sentenced to 10 weeks in prison. There have been more than 10 cases of “corona coughing” in the Netherlands, a spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office told local media.
Hesitant lovers, meanwhile, have been advised to take the plunge to fight coronavirus. England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said couples who live apart should use the U.K.’s new social-distancing rules to make a choice: move in together or deal with a potentially long period apart.
“If you’re two individuals, two halves of the couple currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in their households,” Harries said at a press conference in Downing Street.
“The alternative might be that for quite a significant period going forward they should test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household,” she added. “What we do not want is people switching in and out of households.”
Meanwhile, Slovaks rebelled against the country’s regulation forbidding them from being in public without a mask or other face protection. A train service out of Bratislava was delayed Thursday because several passengers refused to wear protective masks and attacked train staff when ordered to do so, the SME daily reported.
What seems certain is that once this crisis is over, behavioral scientists will remain busy for a long time.
Melissa Heikkilä, Eline Schaart, Charlie Cooper and Siegfried Mortkowitz contributed reporting.