LIKE a tour of north Belfast during the troubles, four Spanish soldiers stand sentinel at a key junction in an inland town of Andalucia.
Not since an attempted coup by a former Franco supporter Antonio Tejero in 1981 has the Foreign Legion, based in nearby Ronda, been out on the streets.
This is the entrance to Arriate from Setenil de las Bodegas and more crucially Alcala el Valle, where an alarming 58 people have so far been diagnosed with the deadly coronavirus and three have died, revealed an Olive Press source.
Just a short 20 minute drive down the scenic MA-7403, only essential traffic and the local bus is still being allowed to take the journey.
“Things are much more serious here in Andalucia than the locals realise”
The authorities in the Serrania de Ronda area are taking no chances.
The Ronda regional hospital is steadily filling up with its own urgent cases of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
The Olive Press can reveal that so far four people have died in the celebrated inland town, with according to local police, ‘at least 18 people’ in a serious condition.
“The authorities have so far been keeping things quiet so as not to alarm the local population, but the truth needs to get out,” revealed a local policeman, who asked not to be quoted.
“Things are much more serious here in Andalucia than the locals realise,” he added.
“We don’t want to panic people too much but they need to be worried and take precautions. Basically stay indoors.”
This is very much the case in Alcala del Valle, a village of 5500 people just across the Malaga/Cadiz border, where at least 36 residents of an elderly care home and an alarming 21 health workers have so-far tested positive.
In total, the village has an estimated 100-plus people with the virus (with three dead so far dead, two dying on Monday).
So critical is the condition that local mayor Rafael Aguilera has ordered the total shutting down of the village and ordered everyone into isolation.
He has also rolled up his sleeves and gone in to work as a nurse at the care home, where staff shortages have become desperate.
“It’s fair to say the town is in lockdown and everyone is very worried”
On Sunday, the army’s Unidad Militar del Ejercito (UME) went around the streets officially disinfecting the virus and the care home.
And yesterday, after the mayor made an urgent appeal to the Junta de Andalucia, saying the town felt ‘abandoned’, mattresses, blankets and, more crucially, oxygen arrived for the elderly patients.
“It’s been a total circus,” explained local cameraman Pepe Frances. “Things moved so slowly until today when suddenly everything arrived in a rush.
“It’s fair to say the town is in lockdown and everyone is very worried.”
And on Monday, it was why Ronda’s crack La Legion (Foreign Legion) regiment was sent out to help lockdown the entire area.
While a quarter of the 800 regiment is currently serving in Mali, over 100 have been sent out to help the police in the Serrania de Ronda keep as many people at home as possible.
They are currently stationed on the streets in Ronda, Arriate, Setenil, Benaojan and Montejaque. “But we are expecting to roll out into Granada in the next week or so,” explained a corporal.
They were joined by four local policemen and two Guardia Civil patrols in Arriate, a village of over 5000 people, just seven kilometres from Ronda, and seen as a critical weak spot, in danger from the virus.
The Olive Press understands that at least two people in the village have so far caught the virus, while there is also a big residential care home.
In an incredible military operation the village went into lockdown this week, while two tankers and three tractors went about disinfecting every street and building in the town.
“We are taking no chances,” explained local policeman Manuel, whose own father is a pensioner in nearby Alcala del Valle. “It’s a very worrying time and we must ensure what happened there doesn’t come to Arriate.”