Confining a small town like Colomers (Baix Empordà), with 174 residents, is like isolating an island from Barcelona’s Eixample. Perimetering Ripollès, with 25,000 inhabitants, is like confining any small city, such as Olot or Manlleu. These are two comparisons made by mayors and residents of small municipalities to denounce the “arbitrariness” with which confinement by municipalities has been applied. Most are villages with scattered housing, without blocks of flats and at the same time without many services. These characteristics have led to most of the infections detected having originated outside the municipality.
The first case in Susqueda, the least inhabited municipality in the county of La Selva, was precisely a student studying at the English Institute. There have been so few positives that the Catalan Agency for Quality and Health Assessment (AQuAS) does not report cases. The 93 people, spread over three neighborhoods spread over 52 square kilometers, must leave the municipality to make any arrangements.
The mayor, Eva Viñolas, explains that the nearest pharmacy is 16 kilometers away and has to cross two municipalities to get there. “We went to look for the cases we had, because everyone who has taken the covid is because they have left the municipality,” says Viñolas. The mayoress, who is also the provincial deputy delegate for assistance to small municipalities, demands that they be more present: “Towards the end of the first confinement it seemed that they were listening to us a little, but nowadays it can be said that they are not listening to us.”
Visitors despite confinement
The mayoress of Susqueda also complains that, despite the confinement, the town is full of visitors who take the car to play sports. A scene that was repeated this past weekend: in the neighborhood of Sant Martí Sacalm there were about seventy cars of people from outside the town who wanted to see and play with the snow. “There are more cars than for the festival,” lamented the mayor in a tweet in which he also demanded police checks. “I guarantee you that they are not residents of the municipality,” he said. Hours after the tweet, a group of neighbors were helping a car with a family that had bypassed the confinement and had left the road on the path that leads from the Coll sanctuary to the mountain of Sant Benet, in the heart of the Guilleries.
Among the inhabitants there is a contrasting feeling, according to Sandra, as some are angry about the number of visitors, while others believe that, as long as different families are not mixed, it does not involve any risk. What they do agree on is denouncing the lack of control of the Mossos d’Esquadra.
On a day-to-day basis, the residents say that they do not suffer from confinement and believe that it does not make them feel “more isolated”, as in a way they are already living in scattered farmhouses. “We have the advantage that, being a territorially large municipality, we do not suffer the same consequences for doing sports,” says Sandra. The only grievance is that every time they have to go out to buy, place an order or some management, which they must inevitably do outside the municipality, they have to fill out the certificate of self-responsibility.
Portbou, the station’s strainer
In Portbou, a border town in the Alt Empordà, Mayor Xavi Barranco also says that many of the cases – so far 24 have been detected, according to the AQuAS – are of station workers living in other municipalities. “The station is a risk factor, because it is a place of passage with passengers up and down, but it has not brought many problems,” says the mayor. Portbou is the last town before reaching France and the border factor is also an added risk. To this, the mayor adds the lack of controls at the train station, as he says it is easy to detect tourists who spent the weekend there. “There is little or no control; it seems to me that whoever wants to pass by the station when they want and in the way they want, without much trouble ”, says Barranco.
The mayor joins the prayers of the micro-villages and considers that “it is not a good policy to take generic measures”, although his municipality does have the majority of guaranteed services within its term: several supermarkets, weekly markets, a shopping center primary care and a school, among others.
No case during the first wave
The first impact of the covid was overlooked in Gualta, in the Baix Ter, where they did not register any positive until the summer; they now have 12 accumulated. “If we divide it by the 402 inhabitants, there are not a few cases, but they have been spaced out and have occurred in a family reunion or because of the close contact of another positive,” says the mayor, Jaume Fontdevila. Still, it puts the brakes on claiming exceptions in confinement for small towns. On the one hand, he believes that, if the wide sleeve were allowed, “it would be up to them to receive” and blame them for the increase in cases. On the other hand, he acknowledges that the closure by municipalities harms them and that it makes no sense to “fill out self-responsible certificates to go shopping.”
The streets of Gualta are empty most of the day, with a small shop that only opens in the mornings and a supermarket on the outskirts of the town center. “Everyone has a small yard and few people take to the streets,” says Sandra Frigola, a neighbor who laments that they often have to leave town to take their daughters to school, to go to the pharmacy or to take the car in the workshop. Frigola explains, angrily, that at Christmas the residents did not leave the village and instead the municipality was “filled” with residents of second homes. “We didn’t find this normal for the people of the village,” he says.
Another neighbor, Eva Suana, has had the same feeling, but admits it has not posed any danger of infection. Both she and her partner work in the Alt Empordà, but despite carrying the self-responsible certificate they say they have never found any police control: “In Gualta there is access by four different roads, it is very difficult to control who enters it and who comes out of it ”.
Restaurants sense clients
In Colomers, also in the Baix Ter, most restaurants have had to close due to municipal confinement. The Otter only opens an hour and a half at noon, and there are days when they haven’t sold any menus. Its owner, Tania van de Casteele, draws a complicated day to day: “My husband and I work, because the workers are in an ERTO, and if one day we make 100 euros it’s a lot.” They have also offered a service to take food home, but as they have to travel to different villages, it does not work for them either. “There are a lot of things we buy directly at the supermarket. We can’t accumulate stock and there are a lot of things we don’t even sell, ”explains Tania. In the summer they made a drawer “to survive” if they were locked up. They had a closure of one or two months, but not the winter they are “giving”. He regrets that, unlike what happened during the first state of alarm, they now do not have tax breaks.
“Municipal confinement ends up becoming home confinement,” said Mayor Josep Manel López Gifreu. As in Gualta, there are very few people on its streets, and the mayor explains that they counted a case of covid during the first wave, and that since then they have known three more positives. They are so few, that the web of the department of Health does not collect any case in the municipality of Colomers. “Young people can still go for walks and play sports, but most people spend the day locked up at home, especially the elderly,” laments the mayor, who describes the closure by municipality as “absurd.” “In these houses there lives a woman alone or parents with children, and the interaction is much less than in city apartments, but the treatment is the same,” he says.
He is also not happy with the county confinement because they are a town that lives between the Gironès and the Alt Empordà. The residents of Colomers usually cross the border with the Gironès to shop in Sant Jordi Desvalls and to visit the doctor in Cervià de Ter, and at the same time “they make a living looking more at L’Escala, in the Alt Empordà, than in La Bisbal d’Empordà ”, the capital of the region, explains the mayor. He also says that “having to leave the town for any need, you are always waiting for a young man to stop you.” That is why I would welcome a confinement in the health region or a radius of mobility.
WhatsApp, support tool
All three mayors highlight as a good tool the use of WhatsApp groups for each neighborhood, and tracking the most vulnerable people. In fact, they say that WhatsApp is the application that has allowed them to reach most groups in their municipalities, including the elderly, long before e-mail. In addition to the messages, in Portbou, social services have hired a person to call the most vulnerable neighbors and, if they need it, give them orders. “If you have a person who does not come out, the City Council is at your disposal”, sums up the mayor Xavi Barranco.
In Ripollès there are also complaints about the way in which the issue of perimeter confinement has been managed. When he had not yet suffered the confinement of the region, the president of the County Council, Joaquim Colomer, received a call from the Generalitat to inform him that the measure became history because mobility would be limited to all of Catalonia. Half an hour later, the Government announced the municipal confinement. According to Colomer, it is a measure made with a “metropolitan look”: “It has neither head nor feet in a region like ours, which barely reaches 25,000 inhabitants and in which most municipalities do not have the basic services for the people”.
No positive in six municipalities
In fact, six municipalities in the region have not yet registered any positives, while others, such as Les Lloses, Planoles, Vallfogona and Ogassa, have not had more than ten, according to the latest data from the Department of Health. With these data, how do you explain the exponential increase from mid-December? It is caused by the bridge of the Purissima and the Christmas holidays, according to Colomer, who also admits that the simultaneity of different outbreaks -at the residence of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, at the Hospital de Campdevànol and at the Fundació MAP de Ripoll- contribute to widening the volume of positives.
The county president, who has recently become one of the most critical voices in Ripollès for the management of the pandemic, concludes that “people end up doing a little what they feel like when they see that these decisions are so incongruous” . His discontent comes from afar. The regrowth index stands at 1,182 points, 880 points less since the restrictions were applied, but still well above the Catalan average: “If this is equivalent to being closed for fifteen days, I think it is a failure of the department of I’m glad I made that decision. ”
For Colomer, the closure during the Christmas holidays should have been accompanied by massive tests and he regrets that no additional measures have been applied. In addition, as the confinement was also accompanied by the closure of bars and restaurants, the President of the County Council breaks a lance in favor of the restaurant sector and says that the closure measure “has not borne fruit. to give”.
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