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Great Reboot

In hard-hit Spain, the poor suffer even more from the pandemic

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Mohamed Chirif, a 45-year-old Algerian living in Barcelona, is afraid he might lose his job as a plumber if the coronavirus test he took this week turns out to be positive.

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“If I tell my boss that I have to stay home for 14 days, what do you think he will do? I am sure he would hire another person,” he said, stressing that if he was infected, he would say so.

“And where would I self-isolate? In the bathroom?,” he said during a voluntarily screening programme in his neighbourhood El Raval, one of Barcelona’s most multicultural and poorest areas, whose infection rate is almost double the city’s average. Chirif lives with his wife and two children in a one-bedroom apartment.

His words illustrate one of the challenges Spain faces trying to curb the spread of the virus. It has the highest number of cases in Western Europe, with more than 610,000, while more than 30,000 have died.

Less well-off communities like El Raval are being hit harder, with the gap between poorer and richer areas at the heart of a tense debate in Spain over how to curb the increase in cases, as some cities envisage targeted lockdowns that would focus on the more affected - and therefore often poorer - areas.

At the peak of the pandemic, Barcelona’s district with the lowest income had 2.5 times more cases than the richest while across the Catalonia region the mortality rate was five times higher among the poorest, two studies showed.

In Madrid, the infection rate in a northern district is almost six times lower than in a southern district with a lower average income and a higher migrant population.

The risk of losing one’s job was on the mind of many in the neighbourhood as tests were being carried out in El Raval.

Laia, a 23-year-old waiting in line to get tested, said some people may not come for fear of getting a positive test. “You have your plans and if they tell you you’re positive and have to stay home, some may not be willing to do it,” she said.

Pedro Gullon, a Spanish Epidemiology Society board member, said the inequality gap, fuelled by housing and labour factors, was not the only reason behind Spain’s high infection rate, but the increase in cases had made those disparities more visible.

Seeking not to stigmatize El Raval and encourage residents to get tested, Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau said this week people who could not self-isolate at home could stay at hotels and those at home could receive food and medical visits.

Reporting by Joan Faus and Nacho Doce, Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alexandra Hudson

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