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Coronavirus fallout: Hunger queues in Madrid in wake of COVID-19 lockdown

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Coronavirus fallout: Hunger queues in Madrid in wake of COVID-19 lockdown
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A trail of hunger left by COVID-19 is flooding the streets of Madrid.

Spain has recently made huge strides in curbing its COVID-19 outbreak. But millions of residents are now paying the price of weeks of economic shutdown.

And for a growing number of people, food banks and neighbourhood associations are currently the only things helping to cushion the blow.

According to the federation of neighbourhood associations, more than 100,000 people in the capital are turning to social services and neighbourhood aid networks to get the food they need to survive.

Sulma Cruz is one of them. She was a domestic worker on a contract and is eligible for a special state subsidy, but the service is overwhelmed, and her application has been held up.

"We have not received anything (about aid). I owe rent, I can't afford to pay for my daughters' food and all the expenses,” she says.

Charity workers say many others are unable to access government subsidies or are afraid to request them.

"There are people who have tried to access social services, but the services are overwhelmed and aren't accepting new applications. Or maybe they can't apply because there could be a legal problem. There are people who haven't got legal documents and can't go to social services," says Alba Díez, of the Neighbourhood Association of Aluche in Madrid.

The association has quadrupled the number of food parcels it delivers in just one month.

Sulma's situation before the pandemic was already complicated. A Salvadoran, she emigrated from her country when her husband died. She now shares a flat with other people and lives there in a single room with her two daughters.

"If it wasn't for the owner... the lady is helping me a lot in this aspect: telling me 'don't worry'; but if we didn't get that support, I think we would be on the street," she said.

Economic pain

Spain has now started to gradually ease one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, which it introduced mid-March to fight the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has killed more than 27,000 people in the country and infected more than 277,000.

However, Madrid and Barcelona remain largely shut down and have been told by the central government to wait until they improve their capacity to track new cases.

That has led to complaints by regional leaders and to daily anti-lockdown protests in Madrid and other cities including Salamanca and Zaragoza. Spain's far-right Vox party and the conservative leader of the Madrid region have voiced their support for the demonstrations, saying the city's economy must restart soon to save jobs.

According to Spain's National Statistics Institute (INE), the country's unemployment rate jumped to 14.4% in the first three months of this year.

According to official Spanish figures shared with the EU, more than 7 million people have applied for some kind of subsidy from the government – either because they have ceased their activity, or they have become temporarily or indefinitely unemployed.

But these figures do not take into account workers without a proper contract, who previously offered their services on the black market. Many of those invisible workers are now waiting in line for food handouts.