How a small Spanish town became one of Europe’s worst Covid-19 hotspots
In the northern region of La Rioja, one medieval town has suffered a particularly deadly outbreak. And in such a tight-knit community, suspicion and recrimination can spread as fast as the virus. By Giles Tremlett
When we first spoke, in mid-April, María José Dueñas began weeping within seconds. Her parents’ home town, Santo Domingo de La Calzada, had the worst death rate from coronavirus in Spain, she told me on the phone. “I’m so scared,” she said. Dueñas told stories of police clambering through windows to rescue the dying, who were too weak to open their doors. Regional politicians, meanwhile, refused to give town-by-town figures for the dead, stoking anxiety and encouraging conspiracy theories. Santo Domingo’s locked-down residents, she claimed, were being deliberately kept in the dark as the virus silently stalked the town.
Dueñas does not live in Santo Domingo, a town of 6,300 people set among patchwork fields of cereal crops in the northern Spanish region of La Rioja. She was born there, but now lives 28 miles away in Logroño, the capital of this wealthy region, best known for the rich red wines that bear its name. Her angry, sometimes wildly conspiratorial outbursts on local Facebook groups – some of which have been deleted against her will – mean not all her old neighbours will welcome her back.