AS the nation breathes fresh air once again after 50 days in confinement due to the coronavirus outbreak, it is all too easy to forget the devastating death toll that has swept across Spain.
Figures released by the Junta de Andalucia on Sunday revealed for the first time how the infection rate has affected the province by municipality.
The report also highlighted a grim pattern, that many of the municipalities with the highest confirmed cases were inland, rural communities.
Cuevas Bajas, situated deep in inland Malaga instantly became a focal point of the study, topping the table with a concerning 11.47 cases per 1,000 residents, far ahead of both Malaga City and Ronda with 2.91 and 2.86 respectively.
Rute, in the province of Cordoba, has also made the headlines recently with one of the highest rates of infection in the province, 9.34 per 1,000.
Visiting these two places it is difficult to understand why they have suffered so much due to the virus, when neighbouring villages have escaped relatively lightly – while others have reported ZERO cases.
For example, Cuevas Bajas, with a population of 1,392, has four times as many cases than Villanueva de Tapia, a similar sized community with a similar demographic.
So what has made Cuevas Bajas such a hotspot for the virus? Locals seem as mystified as anyone.
“We have all been following instructions since the crisis began,” explained Marie Luisa, one of the few residents who were braving the scorching lunchtime sun.
“I saw the figures this morning and I was shocked, everyone in the village has been so careful, wearing masks and following orders, it’s such a shame.”
Walking the deserted streets, anyone out in public was wearing a mask and keeping a good distance from their neighbours, and according to workers at Bar Tony, everyone has been very well behaved.
“We know we have a lot of older people here, so we have to be extra careful,” said Antonio Guierro, who was outside his restaurant disinfecting the terrace ready for reopening.
Cuevas Bajas mayor Manuel Lara seems just as mystified, but is also quite angry at the handling of the information of the study.
“No one has contacted the town hall, much less myself, to give us the official data,” he said to local media outlet ABC de Sevilla.
Having only heard of the villages’ precarious situation via third parties, Lara is defiant that he has done all he can to prevent such outbreaks.
In another interview with Malaga Hoy, Lara defended: “The town hall is continuously taking a series of measures and we will continue doing so for as long as necessary.
“We have been carrying out daily street cleaning of the entire town, disinfection of all shops by a company hired by the council, delivery of food to those most in need, and emotional and psychological support to anyone who needs it.”
He does feel, however, let down by the government for not delivering on their promises.
Despite the government’s announcement last week that they will be distributing hundreds of thousands more masks across Malaga costing millions of euros, Lara claims that Cuevas Bajas only received 344 masks in 44 days, leaving them drastically short.
Rute, although reporting similar figures, represented a completely different picture.
The streets were full and people were going about their daily lives as the hustle and bustle of months prior seemed to be returning.
Masks were popular, and respect for the rules was apparent as orderly queues out the door could be seen at pharmacies and grocery stores.
The heart of the COVID-19 epicentre in Rute emerged to be the Juan Crisostomo Mangas de Rute Residential home, where its 12 deaths represent 99% of the overall total of the town.
Sources indicate that an outing to Malaga just days before the lockdown for the residents potentially brought back a lethal strain of the virus.
A further theory brought to the table by local business owner Carlos Garcia, speculated that the owner and daughter of a local metalwork fabricator Cruzber SA, ‘travelled for a business meeting to Rome just days before the virus hit, potentially transmitting COVID-19 onto his 100 plus staff’.
This would back up the relatively high infection rate of 92 amongst the towns 3,542 population.
Many inland villages have proven a hotbed for transferring the virus and it was only a matter of time before a certain village rose above the rest.
The concentration of elderly and vulnerable residents, mixed with less policing means communities such as Cuevas Bajas were at a greater risk of becoming a ticking time bomb for the COVID-19 virus.
Accusations from local governments of being forgotten by the Junta de Andalucia are also a common headline in local pages, with numerous reports of drastic shortages in PPE and a lack of crucial communication between local and provincial councils, leaving town Mayors such as Lara to take the reins and carry out preventative tasks with minimal support.