CORONAVIRUS

Madrid region orders restaurants and bars to close from Saturday onward to slow coronavirus spread

Valencia follows suit, while Murcia confines 376,000 people in several coastal towns for two weeks

An empty restaurant in Madrid's Chamberí neighborhood on Thursday night.
An empty restaurant in Madrid's Chamberí neighborhood on Thursday night.DAVID EXPÓSITO

Spain on Friday saw new, stricter measures aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus, which has already infected 4,200 people and caused 120 deaths. Madrid has been hardest hit with around 2,000 infections and 56 deaths.

Authorities in Catalonia introduced restrictions of movement in four municipalities on Thursday night, and the Basque Country on Friday morning declared a health emergency that makes it possible to order similar confinements.

On Friday afternoon authorities in the region of Murcia announced confinements in the popular coastal towns of Cartagena, San Javier, San Pedro del Pinatar, Los Alcázares, La Unión, Mazarrón and Águilas. Freedom of movement will be restricted for 14 days and all businesses will shut down except groceries and pharmacies. The decision affects 376,000 people in the area.

The regional premier, Fernando López Miras, blamed the move on the “irresponsible behavior” of a large number of people from Madrid who are taking the school quarantine period “like a vacation.”

Residents of the Madrid region are widely anticipating a similar move, which has been neither confirmed nor denied by officials yet. “We cannot say that [confinement] is going to be applied immediately, nor can we rule it out,” said Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida.

Around 10 million students are staying home after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Thursday recommended nationwide school closures, not just in high-transmission areas such as Madrid and La Rioja. Sánchez also announced a multi-million-euro relief package to deal with the growing health and economic emergencies.

By lunchtime Friday, the Madrid regional government opted to order all bars and restaurants to close from Saturday onward. There are more than 31,000 bars and restaurants in the Madrid region, according to an industry association, employing around 236,000 people. There are around 2,600 nightclubs, bars, theaters, music halls, cultural centers and similar venues in the region.

Shortly after 3pm, the Valencia regional government announced a similar closure, with bars and restaurants being told to close their doors from midnight on Friday night onward.

Sixty-two countries have so far announced bans or restrictions on travelers from Spain.

Strained healthcare

As the healthcare system starts to feel the strain of the spike in coronavirus cases, the managers of a downtown hotel in Madrid, the Gran Hotel Colón, on Friday offered to turn it into a makeshift hospital “for as long as necessary,” said the president of the Ayre Group, Abel Matutes Prats. The hotel is located right across from Gregorio Marañón hospital, on Pez Volador street.

The Spanish monarchs, Felipe VI and Letizia, took a coronavirus test on Thursday and the results came back negative, said the royal household in a statement. Members of the Madrid government are undergoing tests after the head of the environment department, Paloma Martín, was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus.

English version by Susana Urra.