"Spain was considered to have one of the best medical systems in the world, but we are completely overwhelmed. Please, Morocco, take it seriously.”
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic tightens its chokehold on Europe, people on the frontlines of the crisis in Italy and Spain are urging their less-affected neighbors to heed the warnings of the West.
Around the world, people are demonstrating solidarity with the medical professionals sacrificing their physical and mental health to save the lives of others from the coronavirus pandemic.
But Valeria Gaspari, an Italian doctor, does not feel like a hero: “I feel continuously scared.”
Gaspari normally works as a dermatologist in a hospital in Bologna, but since COVID-19 swept through Europe, Gaspari’s life is far from what she understands as normal. She now works full-time in her hospital’s COVID-19 department, like many other Italian medical professionals.
“Entering a COVID-19 area feels like working in a different time zone, where nothing is real. Like I am working on the moon, my protective device being an astronaut suit,” she said.
“We are working with extremely desperate people, very ill people who must be treated as human beings and not as objects.”
Italy thought that the reduction of social activity and some attention to standard habits was sufficient, but the staggering 97,689 case count and 10,779 death toll shows the country failed to contain the outbreak that emerged after confirming the first case on January 29.
“If we could turn back time, I would have reacted to the severity of this virus and its consequences more quickly,” Gaspari said.
“I would have tried to understand that the main problem comes from the heart of the healthcare facilities, from hospitals. The Italian government has not given enough equipment to protect us. And this deficiency allowed the virus to spread.”
Despite the stress that comes with being on the frontlines of the pandemic, Gaspari is hopeful that Italy can brave the storm.
“I have also learned a beautiful lesson,” she added. “Life is precious and so much more worth than our materialistic desires. Above all, embracing someone beloved is a gift, never take it for granted.”
Ana Diaz, the director of communication at ActionAid in Spain, living in the city center of Madrid, can still not believe how drastically her life has changed since COVID-19 reached Europe.
Not even three weeks ago, she crossed Spain’s capital on a daily basis for business meetings and to socialize with friends. For the past 17 days, however, she has been stuck home, not seeing anyone except her daughter.
Diaz admitted she and her fellow citizens did not take the COVID-19 situation seriously in the beginning, “But now we see the effects and we respect the protocols.”
Spain is the second hardest-hit country in Europe after Italy, with 85,195 cases of COVID-19 and 7,340 deaths. The infection rate grows by the thousands every day.
“Two days ago I got a panic attack thinking of what’s happening and the consequences it can have for this country, for the economy,” she said. “But I worry especially about my family.”
“Some of my friends got the virus. Fortunately, most of them are young enough and they will recover, but we have many elderly people too,” Diaz continued.
“I worry for them, and not just because of the coronavirus. If any other urgent medical situation arises, we’ll be in trouble because there is just no more capacity at Spanish hospitals.”
Although the liberated lifestyle of Madrid’s residents has become extremely limited, Diaz manages to see opportunities, especially in terms of business and personal growth.
“Working remotely with kids at home is not easy, but it is also a chance to become more creative,” she said, offering the example of Spanish mothers organizing dance classes for their children via Skype.
“There is also a huge opportunity for online teaching. Why not take English classes online, for example? Take advantage! It is now the time to start your studies or to relaunch your business. This crisis is going to change a lot of things.”
Instead of meeting each other for tapas or party nights, Diaz and her friends now meet virtually, throwing a party once a week through the online conference platform Zoom.
“We are Mediterranean people who like being physically close to each other,” she added. “The distance gets really hard now.”
Words of wisdom to Morocco
Shortly after confirming the country’s 63rd case of COVID-19, Morocco declared a state of emergency, which came into effect on March 20. But after 10 days of lockdown and restricted mobility, cases have skyrocketed to 516, including 33 deaths.
Morocco’s figures are no match for the tens of thousands of cases and deaths across the Mediterranean, but the numbers do not necessarily reflect the severity of the situation.
Gaspari has important advice for those whose lives have not yet been affected yet like hers: “Health is first and after are all other priorities. It is not the time now to continue celebrating traditions, for example, or to think about the economy. Be brave and stay home, because social life is the virus’s playground.”
“Of course, clean your hands, keep your distance from people, wear gloves and masks, but also realize those are just soft rules to a virus that can be spread easily,” the Italian doctor warned.
Diaz also has a message for the people of Morocco.
“Respect the measurements. There is no grey zone. You need to be responsible,” she insisted.
“We were too late. We thought it was nothing. Spain was considered to have one of the best medical systems in the world, but we are completely overwhelmed. Please, Morocco, take it seriously.”