Fruitvale native Garrett Kucher journeyed to Spain earlier this year to play golf on the Evolve Tour, he ended up in a mandatory lockdown.
Kucher and his partner Victoria Apostoliuk of Castlegar have been living in Murcia, in the southeast of Spain, since November. Faced with a sharp rise in coronavirus on Saturday, the Spanish governement became the second country in Europe to impose sweeping restrictions.
“We found this out Friday night, and on Saturday morning our region was on lockdown,” Kucher told the Times on Sunday. “We headed straight to the grocery store, and everybody was running around, and within the next morning we were on lockdown.”
The regional authorities put almost 400,000 residents of Murcia’s coastal towns under lockdown, while warning visitors from Madrid and elsewhere to stop heading for the seaside and risk spreading the virus further.
Kucher said that the Spanish army was patrolling the city, and if caught out on the street, residents could be fined 1,000 Euros. On Monday, Spain increased the fines to almost a half-million Euros for repeat offenders.
Supermarkets remain open, but only one person per household can leave at a time to get supplies and return straight home.
“It’s kind of set in today,” said Kucher. “We’re trying to take it easy on each other, because we’re in a two bed, two bath apartment, but we have my friend staying with us. Our living quarters it’s great, we’re in a really good spot, and we have lots of food and water.”
However, the biggest obstacle for Kucher and Apostoliuk may be the language barrier.
“It’s a foreign country, nobody speaks English at all in the south of Spain. We have no idea when we’re going to get out of the country. If they lift this in 15 days there could be thousands of people trying to leave the country in the days following this.”
The young couple tried to contact the Canadian Embassy but it was closed on the weekend. They were transferred to Ottawa, were told to make the best of their situation, and wait and try the Embassy again.
Spain has registered nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to over 11,000 on Tuesday, the health ministry said, with 491 deaths.
There were more than 2,000 infections detected between Saturday and Sunday when the number of deaths rose by around 100 and the restrictions were put in place.
Of the total number, Madrid remains the worst-affected region, with over 9,000 cases. They also reported that the prime minister’s wife, Maria Begona Gomez Fernandez, has tested positive for the virus.
In order to rein in the virus, Spain has declared a state of alert, shutting all but essential services and ordering its population of 46 million people to stay at home. People are only authorized to go out to buy food or medicine, to go to work or to get medical treatment.
“It’s scary for us because we are actually living this pandemic, and getting shutdown,” said Kucher. “Everyone back home isn’t living the situation we are, even though the panic is becoming more real at home too.”
In the event either Garrett or Victoria should come down with symptoms, they are required to contact the health authority.
“They’ve given us a number to call if you feel you’re having any symptoms at all,” said Kucher. “If you feel sick you call the number and they’ll send out a health and safety team to come give you a test in your house, so you actually keep yourself quarantined.”
The response team assesses how severe the case is on an individual basis, and treats it accordingly. But there remain a lot of questions if one of them should come down with the virus.
Not only is there a language barrier, but a good possibility that they would be separated, with little communication, no visiting privileges, and the uncertainty as to how long the quarantine will last.
Spanish ministers said on Monday that the state of emergency will have to be extended beyond an initial 15-day period, and the government reported that it will also close the border with Portugal.
“Obviously we will have to extend this situation…in 15 days I do not think that we will be in a position to win this battle,” Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos told RNE radio.
As for golf, Kucher had a great start on the Evolve Tour, earning a top-5 and top-20 finish, and was looking forward to the Haciendo del Alamo Tournament next month, and the European Challenge Tour’s Prague Open and Swiss Challenge this summer. But while Kucher sits in isolation, looking across the highway at his current golf course, he cannot help but ponder the irony.
“I feel healthy, I’ve been playing tons of golf, am in a really good spot, and the sponsors are really happy. It’s just ‘wow!’ I have to sit on my balcony and stare out at the golf course that’s 20-feet from me, and I usually play every day … but I’m on lockdown.”
Attempts to book flights out of Spain have failed, and the West Kootenay couple have no idea how they are going to get out of the country when and if restrictions are eased.
As for any advice on how to prepare for COVID-19 virus.
“Obviously you do need to go out and buy food, and supplies and stuff, but keep it to a minimum,” added Kucher. “We just got what we need, the supermarkets will stay open, they’re not going to cut you off. Stay home and take the safety precautions, because we’re living it right now. Reality is reality, and it’s here and it’s pretty serious.”