PHOTOS: In a locked-down city, signs of life and helping hands in the fight against COVID-19

Melissa Rossi

When a pandemic strikes, all hands first turn to caring for the stricken. But with Spain in a virtual lockdown for weeks, the entire country has been affected, and more than just health care workers have been enlisted in the response.

Barcelona photojournalist José Colón donned a mask and gloves to venture out into an almost deserted city, turning his camera on those anonymous heroes who are helping to keep the city running. “Sometimes while doing this shoot I got chills, thinking of what a caring community we live in,” he says.

Help for and help from the homeless

With over 1,200 homeless people in Barcelona, one priority has been providing shelter for them. The Spanish army rehabbed the Victòria Eugènia pavilion at Barcelona’s convention center, which will house up to 1,000. Two dozen other homeless people, who have masks, are taking shelter at a residential home, Cadiz, next to the iconic Sagrada Familia cathedral — like the rest of Spain unable to venture outside, though they receive regular meals.

The Victòria Eugènia pavilion of the Fira de Barcelona, a convention center retrofitted as a homeless shelter in less than four days with bunk beds, tables, showers and portable sinks. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
José Colón for Yahoo News
Residents of the House of Cadiz homeless shelter manufacture handmade face masks. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
José Colón for Yahoo News

Help for the homebound and elderly

The elderly too are at high risk, particularly those in nursing homes, where thousands have died. Troops sent to disinfect the facilities reportedly discovered that some had been abandoned by the staff, leaving residents dead in their beds. But in Barcelona, some 50 volunteers from the organization Proactiva Open Arms are working with nursing homes to help test residents and workers for the coronavirus — and many seniors and workers are participating in tests of experimental therapies, including hydroxychloroquine. The clinical trial is headed by local epidemiologist Dr. Oriol Mitjà, researcher at the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, and coordinated by Dr. Bonaventura Clotet of the Fight AIDS Foundation.

Aid workers from Proactiva Open Arms carry out coronavirus detection tests on the elderly home and in private homes in Catalonia. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
José Colón for Yahoo News
José Colón for Yahoo News
José Colón for Yahoo News
José Colón for Yahoo News
José Colón for Yahoo News

As in the U.S., facilities for the elderly in Spain have been devastated by the coronavirus. In Barcelona alone, more than two-thirds of nursing homes have been sites of COVID-19 infections, according to Mayor Ada Colau. Government employees — from the armed forces to the fire brigades — have been sent out to disinfect these hot spots.

Members of the fire brigade prepare themselves prior to disinfecting a residence for the elderly in Barcelona. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
José Colón for Yahoo News
José Colón for Yahoo News

Street vendors find a new line of work

“Manteros” — as the Senegalese men normally selling shoes, purses, toys and selfie sticks outside of tourist sites are called — are also hard-hit by the lockdown. “They’ve lost their jobs, and many have problems paying the rent and ensuring the most basic food,” says a spokesperson for the Popular Union of Street Vendors. To address those woes, the union has opened a food bank. Along with the Top Manta clothing brand, the Popular Union of Street Vendors also has turned a clothing store into a clothing factory, where hundreds take turns at the sewing machines, making thousands of masks and gowns, which are donated to workers in Barcelona area hospitals.

Senegalese workers in a sewing workshop to produce gowns and masks for Catalan hospitals in the Raval neighborhood. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
José Colón for Yahoo News

Supporting health care workers

Hospital and clinic workers themselves — dubbed “Health care kamikazes” by the New York Times — are one of the hardest-hit populations. Often working without adequate protective gear, at least 12,000 have fallen sick themselves, and 13 have died. Each night, residents of Barcelona assemble on their balconies to cheer them. Barcelona restaurants have joined to deliver food to local hospitals nightly, in an initiative called “Delivery 4 Heroes.”

Health care workers at the Hospital Clínico take to the streets to acknowledge the cheers of Barcelona residents. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
Food donated by “Delivery 4 Heroes” is delivered to a hospital in Barcelona. (José Colón for Yahoo News)

Coping with the deceased

With nearly 10 percent of known COVID-19 victims in Spain ultimately succumbing to the disease, mortuaries and crematoria are overwhelmed, and coffin makers can’t keep up. In Barcelona, the backlog of requested cremations stretches as long as two years. Throughout Spain, public funerals with more than two people have been temporarily banned.

A coffin maker at the Eurocoffin coffins factory in Barcelona.(José Colón for Yahoo News)
An unfinished coffin sits at the Eurocoffin coffins factory in Barcelona. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
Coffins, most of them containing the bodies of COVID-19 victims, in the parking garage at the Collserola funeral parlor in Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
A coffin containing a victim of COVID-19 is loaded into a hearse in the parking garage at the Collserola funeral parlor in Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona. (José Colón for Yahoo News)
José Colón for Yahoo News
“I want you to stay home,” by artist Tvboy amid a lockdown in Barcelona. (José Colón for Yahoo News)

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Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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