Spanish capital braces for closure as virus cases soar |
MADRID, Oct 3 — With coronavirus infections soaring, the city of Madrid was yesterday bracing for a partial lockdown that will cut it off from the rest of the country.
The new restrictions, which will also apply to nine other nearby towns where infection rates are high, will come into force at 10.00pm (2000 GMT) with people only allowed to leave the area for work, school or medical and legal reasons.
Although Madrid’s regional leaders have agreed to implement the restrictions, they strongly oppose the closure, filing an appeal at the National Court to challenge its legality.
The new measures, which will initially be imposed for 14 days, will affect 4.5 million people in the city and the other nine towns, requiring them to avoid all unnecessary travel, but not confining them to their homes.
The provisions were outlined in a decree that lays down conditions for restrictions in areas where the virus is spreading rapidly, which were agreed on Wednesday at talks between the health ministry and most of Spain’s 17 regions, which are responsible for managing the pandemic.
In reality, Madrid is the only region where the restrictions will apply given its infection rate of 730 cases per 100,000 people, compared with just 300 per 100,000 in the rest of Spain — which in itself is the highest in the European Union.
The talks came after a two-week standoff between the leftwing coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Madrid’s rightwing administration headed by Isabel Diaz Ayuso over the region’s management of the crisis.
But the new rules will be difficult to apply within the capital, which is home to 3.2 million people, with regional officials warning the mobility restrictions will cause mayhem.
Billion-euro price tag?
“Thanks for the chaos, Pedro Sanchez,” tweeted Diaz Ayuso.
And Madrid’s justice chief Enrique Lopez warned the closure would cost the economy 8.0 billion euros (US$9.4 billion) over the course of a month.
But Sanchez, speaking in Brussels, said Madrid was facing “a moment of extraordinary gravity” and defended the move as necessary “to limit the circulation of the virus” in a region that counted 36 per cent of Spain’s infections in the past fortnight.
For now, the court challenge will not impede implementation of the restrictions.
In the first few days, police will not be issuing fines until the new restrictions are validated by a regional court.
With so many exceptions to the rule, monitoring the mobility restrictions is likely to be something of a logistical nightmare in a city where two million trips are made every day.
As they currently stand, the new rules suggest a person living outside the city could take a suburban train, travel 15 kilometres (nine miles) to the office then go shopping or have a beer with friends after work anywhere within the capital.
“There are so many loopholes that checking everyone to find out why they are travelling is going to be very difficult,” warned Madrid’s mayor Jose Luis Martinez Almeida.
The rules will also mean that a million people living in badly-hit areas in or around the capital who have been under a localised lockdown — some for four days, others for 11 — will now be able to circulate freely.
The partial lockdown is far less stringent than the one imposed across the country in March and April, which was one of the toughest in the world.
Back then, people could only leave home to buy food, to work or for medical reasons and for a long period were not allowed out for a walk or to exercise.
The virus has now killed nearly 32,000 people in Spain and has infected around 760,000. — AFP