Vaccinated Spain pensioners revel in rare theatre trip
Freshly vaccinated against coronavirus, a group of Spanish pensioners headed to a theatre in central Madrid on Wednesday on their first trip out in nearly a year.
Ahead of the outing, 98-year-old Milagro Fernandez painted her nails, curled her hair and pulled on a fur coat over her lace blouse.
As she enters the lobby of the nursing home where she lives, the staff break into applause: it’s a huge moment for this tiny elderly lady who caught Covid last spring but recovered.
Heading out the door, she boards a minibus with three other residents: 87-year-old Antonio Alonso, Concha Martinez, 90, and Jose Tellez who is 92.
It’s a very big day for them as they head off for the bustling heart of Madrid to a theatre on Gran Via, the city’s busiest shopping street.
“Shall we have something to eat afterwards?” wonders Tellez, who like all of them is struggling to hide his excitement.
It’s been an entire year since they last left the retirement home where they live and were able to walk the city’s busy streets.
“I’m almost more excited than them!” grins Laura Egea who runs the home and would have loved to have gone with them.
When the virus first hit last spring, it ravaged this home of 180 residents, claiming “dozens” of lives, says Egea, her eyes welling up at the unspeakable memories.
In early December, a government report estimated that between 47 and 50 percent of deaths in the first wave of the pandemic occurred in elderly care homes.
Spain has so far counted more than 68,000 deaths and more than 1.3 million cases.
Inside the minibus, they chatter on excitedly with one pointing out her former hair salon, another talking about restaurants while a third is directing the driver. “Turn left here, it’s much better.”
In front of the EDP theatre on Gran Via, dozens of other buses have parked with their silver-haired passengers slowly getting out.
In the lobby, there is a sea of zimmer frames. In the auditorium many put their walking sticks under seats.
Today is a special day with the theatre inviting 150 vaccinated pensioners from seven Madrid care homes along with 50 carers, who have also been immunised, to see a one-man show by the actor Santi Rodriguez.
But the real show is not on the stage — it’s the pensioners themselves, with a gaggle of reporters on hand to witness this first trip out for the newly-vaccinated.
For these elderly theatre-goers symbolise the return to normality that everyone hopes the vaccine will bring — even if they are still wearing masks and sitting at a distance from each other.
“I miss seeing so many people together, there are just so many of us,” says Conchita Martinez.
Nearby sits Milagro Fernandez in her red velvet seat, all smiles as the curtain goes up.
– ‘Time to enjoy ourselves again’ –
Half an hour of jokes and laughter brighten up this chilly February morning nearly a year after the pandemic took hold in Spain.
When the show is over, everyone dashes to the loo with Antonio Alonso grumbling about the queue.
“It has been such a long time, but little-by-little we’re going to start enjoying things again,” says Fernandez, her eyes twinkling.
Clotilde Frias, who runs events at the home and is the only staffer to go with them, says the relief at being able to go out is immense.
“The excitement has been the biggest thing. I think I was the most excited — along with Milagro!” she smiles.
“Truth is, we’re very happy to have been able to go out. After a year and 10 days, it’s about time!”
As well as receiving the vaccine, going out has given them “a healthy dose of vitality, enthusiasm and tremendous optimism,” she adds, saying this first trip out is only the beginning.
“We’ll do it again and do whatever they want: go out, eat and have fun!”
So far, some 1.2 million people have been vaccinated in Spain since the start of the immunisation campaign which began just after Christmas with care home residents first in line along with their carers.
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