Valencia opts to postpone world-famous Fallas fiestas on coronavirus fears

The central government has decided to ban events with more than a thousand people in Madrid, Vitoria, Labastida and La Rioja

Crowds await the start of the ‘mascletà’ in the city of Valencia on Tuesday.
Crowds await the start of the ‘mascletà’ in the city of Valencia on Tuesday.Monica Torres
El País

By midday on Wednesday, the total number of novel coronavirus infections confirmed in Spain stood at 2,002, with 47 deaths. All of Spain’s regions have so far registered cases, although the focal points are in Madrid, with half of the total infections and 31 deaths, the Basque Country (199 infections and six deaths, as at 8.30am on Wednesday), and La Rioja (179 infections and two deaths).

According to Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, the Madrid region has seen 10 deaths in the last day and 242 new infections. “We are in a different situation than that of the last few days,” he said. “None of the measures that are being applied in the risk zones are useful on their own. They must be combined and be applied.”

Simón also added that a total of 136 patients who had been infected with the coronavirus have already been given the all-clear and released from hospital. “We will receive notifications of a significant increase in the number of discharges,” he added. “This is important, because the number of active cases, susceptible of transmitting the virus, is rising on one side but falling on the other.”

On Tuesday, the Valencia regional government opted to delay the celebration of its world-famous Fallas fiestas, in order to avoid possible contagions of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This is the first time that the local celebrations have been canceled since the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

“The decision is to postpone them until later, when the health situation allows for it – let’s hope that it is soon,” the Valencian regional premier, Ximo Puig, said yesterday. “The idea is to minimize the risk element for contagion due to the large crowds and the mass arrival of people from the most-affected areas.”

The Falla figure at Plaza del Ayuntamiento in Valencia.
The Falla figure at Plaza del Ayuntamiento in Valencia. EL PAÍS

The Fallas fiestas, which had been scheduled to run from March 15 to 19, are famed for their firework and pyrotechnic displays, as well as large papier-mâché figures that are burned at the end of the celebrations. These figures, which had already been positioned in the streets of the eastern Spanish city, will have to be returned to their warehouses.

The Fallas fiestas usually attract hundreds of thousands of people each year, and bring around €700 million to the local economy. They also account for around 15% of the tourism in the city of Valencia over the entire year.

In anticipation of the Fallas, a pyrotechnic display known as the mascletà has been held daily since March 1 at 2pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento square, attracting large crowds. This event too, however, has now been canceled in the wake of the ongoing spike in infections across Spain.

Large gatherings

Meanwhile, the central Spanish Health Ministry on Tuesday decided to prohibit events where more than a thousand people will congregate in the Madrid and La Rioja regions, as well as the city of Vitoria and the municipality of Labastida, both in the northern Basque Country region. All of these areas are currently considered “high-transmission zones” by the health authorities.

In addition, events attracting under a thousand people will see their numbers reduced by a third, in a bid to minimize infections. Major sports events on a national level will also be held behind closed doors.

All of these measures will be applied for a two-week period, although this time frame could be extended according to the spread of the epidemic.

The Health Ministry recommends keeping a distance of one meter between people

The Spanish government had already put a number of measures in place in a bid to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, including recommendations to avoid all non-essential travel, the suspension of flights to Italy during a two-week period, and that seniors with chronic conditions stay in their homes or residences wherever possible. The Health Ministry has also recommended avoiding places where it is not possible to maintain a distance of at least one meter from other members of the public.

In Madrid, La Rioja, Vitoria and Labastida, there are similar bans on holding events with more than a thousand people, and also a reduction of a third at events with crowds of less than a thousand. All daycare centers, schools and universities have been closed in these areas, and employees have been advised to work from home where possible. Madrid City Hall has also ordered all cultural centers, theaters, sports centers and municipal libraries to close their doors between March 11 and 26.

Based on reporting by Ferran Bono, Cristina Vázquez, María Pitarch and Pablo Linde.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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