People all over Spain are adjusting to the state of alarm that came into force last weekend, a decree that has forced the country into lockdown in an effort to contain the coronavirus (Covid-19). By Monday, the streets and public areas of the Costa del Sol were virtually deserted as business owners and residents appeared to be heeding the government's advice to stay at home.
The coast is home to thousands of foreign senior citizens (considered the most venerable group) and many of them rely on the assistance and services of local charitable associations. Most of these charities are endeavouring to continue to help those in need during these difficult times, but the disruption is having a direct effect on the services they can offer.
Age Concern Fuengirola, Mijas and Benalmádena is one of the charities that has pledged to offer its members a continued service, albeit a limited one. The charity has closed its shop and social clubs, although it will assist with hospital visits and doctor's appointments. Along with the safety of its members, the organisation is also concerned for the welfare of its volunteers
"We deal with vulnerable people and, as such, our actions are driven by the need for their safety and welfare. Similarly, our volunteers, who are the lifeblood of the charity, have to be protected. Inevitably this means we are operating a limited service at this time," secretary Steve Marshall explained to SUR in English.
The secretary, who is adamant Age Concern will survive the crisis, explained that the helpline, open weekdays between 10am and 5pm, is receiving a "higher volume of calls than normal".
The Cudeca Hospice in Benalmádena has also employed special measures to protect both staff and patients. In a statement issued on Monday, the cancer charity said, "We do not know of any confirmed case of infection of the coronavirus disease in any worker, family member or patient, so our current objective is to increase preventive measures.
"We believe that we must send a clear and real message of the current situation and extend the protection measures that we have been taking. These measures are temporary, and will be adapted or graduated according to the evolution of the situation."
Cudeca has cancelled all training courses, meetings and events, while access to the hospice is restricted and the day centre has been closed. The charity is still operating its homecare service.
Age Care Calahonda has also set up initiatives to ensure its clients are looked after during the lockdown. The charity, which has closed its drop-in centre, has issued volunteers with identity badges and an official letter stating they are working on behalf of the charity to help the elderly.
The charity has kept in constant contact with those considered vulnerable and it has also set up a 24-hour hotline to keep people informed of the latest updates, as well as a special WhatsApp group to help volunteers keep in contact.
"We are keeping up to date with new policies coming out from the government and then advising our clients by e-mail or phoning them personally, welfare officer Lesley Berridge explained.
Lux Mundi in Fuengirola and Torre del Mar have also had to make adjustments to their daily schedule. Both ecumenical centres have closed their doors, and the solidarity kitchen that offers hot food to the homeless has also been suspended. Lux Mundi is providing telephone and internet assistance in both Spanish and English, but the Christian association is concerned for those in vulnerable situations.
"We have closed our facilities because the vast majority of our volunteers are older people and we do not want to put them at risk. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to the groups that gather in our centres, but we are convinced that this is the only way we will be able to combat this contagious virus. We hope that the authorities have an alternative for the homeless, as they have become even more unprotected," Lux Mundi representative Martha Rivera said.
Meanwhile, town halls have also launched solidarity initiatives aimed at combating the spread of the virus between senior citizens, especially those that live alone. Social Services departments have drawn up lists of people over the age of 70. Social workers will call daily to perform individualised attention and will also inform of any developments concerning the state of alarm. In a bid to minimise the risk of contagion among the elderly, volunteers will offer to collect groceries or medical supplies, as well as walking pets.
Some town halls are also offering emergency supplies to senior citizens and those at risk. Each case will be assessed by the urgency of the individual's situation.
The town halls have set up special hot-lines and people are advised to check relevant websites for more information.