living in a country on lockdown due to the coronavirus

Hello friends!

As you probably know, we’ve been living in Madrid for the past four-and-a-half years. And as you also may know, the whole of Spain is now under a lockdown due to the coronavirus. And since we’re a little bit ahead of the U.S. and many other countries in terms of how far and fast the virus has spread, I thought it might be helpful to tell you about our experience so far.

Last week everything happened really quickly: on Monday it was announced that schools in Madrid (a center of the outbreak) would be closed, Tuesday was the last day of school here, the city of Madrid shut down Friday and Saturday, and the country went into full lockdown Saturday and Sunday.

We live in Central Madrid, the oldest part of the city and a prime tourist destination. Our street is almost entirely restaurants and bars, and as a result it’s usually very busy, especially on weekends and evenings. Now absolutely everything is closed and will continue to be closed for a minimum of 15 days. And I suspect that 15 days will be only the beginning.

Madrid photo by Tsia

So what does that mean for daily life? The only stores that are allowed to be open are grocery stores, pharmacies, and select other sellers of necessary items (which, here in Spain, includes tobacco shops and newspapers). First of all, we can only leave our apartments for groceries, the pharmacy, the hospital, and to care for others who can’t get out. People with jobs that can’t be done remotely may still travel to work and home but without any stops. Everyone else is encouraged to work from home.

I’ve never seen the city so quiet. But the grocery stores are open, the pharmacy just down the street is open, the mercado is mostly open, and people are outside walking their dogs–which you are allowed to do. (Dogs have never been walked so much!) That’s it. I snuck out at sunrise on Sunday morning to take one last run (I’ve been training to run the marathon in April, now postponed until November) and saw virtually no one. It was my last run for a few weeks, and now I’ll need to resort to indoors high intensity interval training and yoga to stay in shape. This is the only part of this lockdown that makes me nervous. I need my exercise! But if you get caught walking around in the city you can be fined or arrested; they’re really serious about this lockdown so it will be effective.

There is plenty of food in the grocery stores, plenty of toilet paper, and the pharmacies are busy filling people’s prescriptions. Apparently there is a shortage of rubbing alcohol, but I haven’t checked on masks and hand sanitizer, so I’m not sure what the status is there. We don’t have any of either and I’m OK with that. We don’t really need them.

Madrid photo by Tsia

I work from home, so not much has changed for me outside of not being able to run. But S is not accustomed to being here all day. Her teachers are bombarding the students with homework. No on-line classes (yet?), but the students all have their textbooks on a tablet, and the school is more-or-less connected on-line, so the children are required to submit some of their work and to check the remainder against answers sent by their teachers. I hope they will continue class instruction in some way soon, but for now it seems to be mostly busy work to keep them from getting bored. When she’s not studying she’s baking, so she’s definitely keeping busy.

When the schools first announced the closure there was a run on the grocery stores. And on toilet paper. More was quickly delivered the next day, and S and I joked that we felt bad for our local supermarket because they had so much toilet paper and food we wondered if we should buy some just to help them out! The shelves looked a little empty again that evening when we dropped by for a couple of things we needed, but they are very quickly re-stocking and I’m not worried about running out.

I made sure to buy extra staple foods in case we weren’t able to get out, but the stores are doing an excellent job of providing for us all, even in the center of the city. I can still run to the mercado for fruit and vegetables, so that’s a big relief. We’re big fruit and vegetable eaters, so that was one of my primary concerns since we don’t eat meat. We also have lots of dried beans and lentils and canned tomatoes and things, so even if the mercado closes at some point I can keep us going for a long time, no worries. (I bought a pressure cooker this year and it’s been really useful. If you have an Instant Pot–is that the name of it?–you’ll be in great shape.)

I have a very good friend here whose husband is the head of a department at a hospital. The hospital is keeping half of their staff at home in case the other staff gets sick. The beds are quickly filling, and confirmed cases are increasing rapidly every day. If the rate of infection continues in the same way it has in Italy they will quickly be overwhelmed, so that’s a little scary. Personally I don’t anticipate the city returning to normal for much longer than the minimum 15 days of our initial lockdown, but we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

We have checked on our neighbors, and we’re getting to know people on our street who we didn’t know well before. Each night all the neighbors go out onto their balconies to applaud for everyone working in the hospitals, to show our thanks. So we see each other more now than I’ve seen most of my neighbors in the two years we’ve lived on this street. And the children are all making posters with rainbows on them to hang in the windows or from the balcony to show other children in the neighborhood they aren’t alone. My church has moved to an on-line format, and we communicate with each other through our usual WhatsApp groups. We’re using FaceTime to communicate with family and friends all over the world, so I don’t feel disconnected at all.

Essentially, we’ll get through this together.

In terms of our business, all our order processing happens in the US so there are no changes there yet. We are trying to decide what to do about the spring patterns, though. We had planned our photo shoot for last weekend, but now the models can’t come to a photo shoot. Oh, and Todd who does our photos is now laid up with a broken arm. (He’s also restricting his contact with everyone since while he was waiting in the emergency room last week three people came in complaining of coronavirus symptoms. They were quickly whisked off for testing, but he still wants to be sure he doesn’t get anyone sick.) The patterns are completely ready, so it’s a little frustrating that we don’t have our photos so we can move things along! I’m so eager to show them to you, but we’ll have to wait a little longer, I guess.

So how are you doing? Do you have any questions? I’m more than happy to answer. And don’t worry. We’ve never experienced anything like this before, but if we’re all careful we can slow the virus from spreading and protect each other from getting sick! It’s just going to take time and patience. And maybe a little sewing therapy?



  1. victoria

    Thank you for your reassuring words. It’s helpful to know what’s coming. ( I am in Canada). You are right, we will get through this together. xo

    1. It’s serious, but if we take it seriously we’ll get through it. Take care!

  2. Ivana

    Thank you very much for your post. We are under a lockdown as well (Czech republic), school are closed from wednesday. Being home with our three kids is a little chalenging 🙂 We live in a small appartment, but we are allowed to go for a walk in the woods, which is very near.
    I love an idea of posters with rainbow, we will definitely make some in the afternoon.

    1. I can imagine it’s much more difficult with small children! Hang in there. I hope you find fun things to keep you occupied.

  3. Schools, pubs, playgrounds, restaurants are closed in ireland too but we are not in full lockdown – There are measures in place to limit movement so as people dont feel overly curtailed (I think) and people are generally complying.

    People are being encouraged to get out for walks, and similarly dogs have never been walked as much! Any business in retail shops is done quickly (reminded me of the recession in 2010), and the streets are quiet and traffic minimum. Measures are also in place for financial assistance for those on short term lay offs – while the amount is basic, it is reassuring.

    Today is our national day – St Patricks day – and there is a nice idea going around for children to decorate their front windows of their houses which I thought was a lovely idea – anything to allay cabin fever!

    I work in the hospital part time, but not in wards, and there are still decisions being made daily as the situation unfolds. I did come across an interesting piece which showed in a simulation of limiting movements and rates of infection, I sent it to my sister as her teenagers still dont get why they cant have a load of friends over and congregate as always….

    1. Yes, it’s not like a “snow day” or other unscheduled vacation days, and it’s difficult for many of us to understand because we’ve never experienced anything like it before. Be well!

    2. Frances

      Thanks for the link to an excellent piece.

  4. Amy

    I’m sure you know that the Michigan governor has locked down the stage in much the same way. Kids are home for the next month from school and all the restaurants are closed.
    They haven’t taken away outdoor exercise yet!
    These are trying times to say the least, but I hope we come out on the other side.
    Thinking of you and S.

    1. I’m so glad they’re taking it seriously, and I hope you get access to testing soon! That’s the part that worries me the most. Be well. Thinking of you during this difficult time. xo

  5. How about releasing your patterns with candid shots taken on dress forms or you on this blog. We are all desperate for new ideas!!!! My thumbs are sore from sewing!

  6. Karen Mulkey

    I live in a senior community in Texas and all our facilities are closed. Yes, the dogs are getting lots of walks. Grocery stores ae panic filled and ordering online is backed up for days. I’m thankful that I love to sew and have a large collection to use. Praying that everyone remains healthy. Thank goodness for the internet and sewing machines! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Erica

    Thank you for sharing with us, Liesl! It is helpful and reassuring to hear your perspective in Spain.

  8. Nicola

    Great to hear you are all managing, I live in Ireland but originally from the U.K I am very worried for my family and friends there as they seem to be very slow to stop the spread, don’t really know what they are doing, we have just been shopping and are going to stay home as long as possible as my husband has M.S and don’t want him getting the virus, I’m a sewer too so I have things to do we have a large garden and chickens so that will keep us busy until we are able to get back to some normality, Take care

  9. PQTN

    NYC is moving ever so slowly towards a city wide lock down. The outdoors is quiet, but our indoors, with 2 children at home, is quite lively. Everyday we receive news about a friend of a friend or a colleague of a friend or a business associate of a friend who either tested positive or is awaiting test results. With a lot of hand washing and social distancing, we will all get through this somehow.

  10. We’re in Bucharest, Romania, and we’re not under a lockdown yet. However, we feel like we’re sitting on a powder keg, because this is a rather poor country, with a poor healthcare system, we’re severely under-testing for COVID-19 – lots of Romanians recently came back from Italy, and we have a rather undisciplined population. My family already started self-isolating, and we try to help our friends and relatives with whatever they may need during this period, but we’re not sure what to expect in the future. I had bought the other week a few food supplies and I assumed I was kind of ready for this situation, but now I realized I’m not, and no one can ever be. Right now we take it easy, one day at a time. It’s not a piece of cake to stay at home with three small kids, but I’m still able to sew – mostly small things like doll clothes, to keep all of us busy and entertained.

  11. Beth

    It makes me sad to think of your lively street so quiet. But we will get through this.

    Not in lockdown here in DC but almost everything is closed. Time to get caught up in lots of projects I never seem to have time for!

    Thinking of you and S. And send speedy recovery wished you Todd for me. Xox

  12. Shea

    I have always loved your calm and friendly writing voice, but never so much as I do today. Sending love!

  13. AC

    Liesl, thanks for your post and the reminder that we will get through this.

  14. Beth

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. The insight in so valuable. Thank you again.

  15. Karen Keefer

    Thank you for your informative post. I live near Washington DC, and am especially hopeful to hear that toilet paper may reappear in stores in the US!!

  16. Frances

    The #1, Times Square, Midtown: all deserted. Steinlauf & Stoller still open (what a winning moment to get to end of muslin bolt). Thanks for the update. Be well and safe. The Guardian’s posted several online yoga/workout recommendations/reviews. Watching Sanjay Gupta on CNN can be reassuring. Might veracity/sanity be contagious? If only.

  17. Marcia Eason

    Thank you for sharing your experience Liesl! I have learned so much from your posts since you moved to Spain! I especially was interested in your comment about clapping/cheering for the health care workers when they come home. Do they all come at one time?
    We are over 65 and my husband received a kidney from my niece, so he is on immunosuppressants and is very high risk for any infection/virus so we are completely hunkering down at home. We do take a long walk in the neighborhood every day and are allowed to do this in Ohio.
    We are aware how fortunate we are to have a safe home and food, etc. I volunteer at a food pantry and, due to my husband’s risk, I am not able to help with that right now. I hate that, but it can’t be helped. Thank you again for sharing. We are truly all in this together!

  18. Janine

    Oh yes, for a runner this can be hard. But you know what they say: an opportunity in disguise. Time for some cross training! (I highly recommend Jessica Smith and Fitness Blender on YT. Both free. Very complete, judge free and low risk of injury)
    This will pass, eventually, and maybe we swill have learned something….

  19. James Vanden Bosch

    It’s great to learn of your situation in Madrid, Liesl–take good care of yourself. But it’s always good simply to hear your voice. Thanks for passing this along.

  20. Very interesting read, thank you for posting! Bogota went under an evening curfew as of today and there’s talk of a four-day quarantine “drill” happening very soon. Toilet paper has disappeared this week.

  21. Lena

    It’s interesting to read about your experiences of the situation. The threath is the same för all of us, wherever we live. I live in Sweden (don’t mix it up with Switzerland!). We haven’t a lockdown here the way you describe it, but we have recommendations to avoid crowdy places , wash your hands, don’t work if you have the slightest symptom and so on. When we are sick we get paid 80% of lost income except för first day. The gouverment now allows us money from first day just to make sure suck people won’t work!
    The authorities åt the health institute works in Another Way than other countries.
    The Most important is to protect people over 70 years, to bring them groceries and medicines, so they won’t get the virus, while they are in the group with highest risk to be sickest and need to be in hospital and also die.
    Our schools are Open! Today is the first day high schools and universities are closed but they Will have digital lessons sent from their teachers from school. The younger kids in pre school and grades 1 to 9 still go to school – otherwise we wouldnt have enough nurses, doctors and other important workers.
    Concerts, theatres, cinemas are closed. We are allowed to be in groups/event of less than 500! peoples, but I doubt people would meet in big groups åt all.
    People buy way too much toilet paper here as in Florida. My daughter (with husband and 2 kids) lives there so we talk a lot about what s the same, and whats different.

    The health authorities “want” people to get suck in covid-19, because we can’t avoid it, but not as the same time! It Will be a long duration though, but they medan that’s bettet than hävning chaos with a lot of suck people a shorts time. I am not quite sure I understand and agree with that…

    I Think what we all have to dö is trist authorities and dö as we are stöld. They try their best to take us through this awkward time. I want it to be över soon (but i know it won’t). The distance between Sweden and Florida (and grand daughters) is sooo much bigger with a virus and closed boarders between.
    I appologize för this long iinput and it night be words making no sense while my autocorrector doesn’t want me to write English! Take care everyone!

  22. Eliza Harper

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest post. As we all face the unknown our lives will face changes. Some for the good, and some not so much. Regardless, we are all in this together regardless of what part of the world we are sewing in. Take care of yourself and those around you.

  23. Ninon

    What a snapshot, so appreciated. I always think being an old baby nurse, the peri-bottle is a good substitute for TP as is a bidet- not too worried about tp!

    We are on self isolation being over 65 in CA and have things set to be able to shelter here in place for awhile. Fortunate to have 2 daughters nearby but miss seeing and hugging them.
    Especially miss holding and hugging our 3 year old Granddaughter- she has always been a bastion of bugs from preschool, but now we are FaceTimeing- helps but not the same.
    They are unable to isolate due to work situation,
    But can run errands if need be.

    My friend was in SF and said it was eerily quiet, she was able to drive thru in 15 minutes which is unheard of.

    Its a good time to reflect, connect thru humor, and appreciate our out of doors and little comforts. Fiber handwork is soothing.

    I worry most about our families and businesses that are marginal and hope folks can help- I have heard buying gift certificates and on line helps- maybe others have ideas as well.

    Everyone stick together in spirit and stay well, the rest will fall in place.

    Best, Ninon

  24. Cindy Cooksey

    Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. Yes, we are a little behind you, but things are moving at a scary pace here. My husband and son are now both working from home (as of today!), so we all have to be a little more considerate. It is a strain on our internet, so I can’t overdo. Anyway, wishing you healthy days and a swift resolution to this situation.

  25. Liz

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Schools have closed here in the Virgin Islands. There are no reported cases yet but we are being cautious. I hear you on the running front. Your plans for yoga and cross training sound very wise. As a teacher I’m fascinated to hear what S’s school provides. I work in a Montessori primary school so we are being creative as to the support we can provide off-line. Sounds like you are being very practical and resourceful. Keep up the amazing work. Thank you again for writing this.

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