CORONAVIRUS

Spain welcomes new stages of coronavirus deescalation plan

Sidewalk cafes reopened in Madrid and Barcelona on Monday, while schools in Basque cities saw the return of some of their students

A sidewalk café Rambla in Barcelona on Monday.
A sidewalk café Rambla in Barcelona on Monday.Albert Garcia

Residents in Spain welcomed relaxed lockdown conditions on Monday, as much of the country moved to a new stage of the government’s coronavirus deescalation plan. The regions of Madrid and Castilla y León as well as the metropolitan area of Barcelona entered Phase 1, which allows sidewalk cafés to reopen at 50% capacity and social gatherings of up to 10 people, while 14 of Spain’s 17 regions either partially or completely transitioned to Phase 2, which permits beaches and schools to reopen.

In the city of Barcelona, hundreds of sidewalk cafes received their first patrons since March 14, when the government declared a state of alarm in a bid to slow the coronavirus outbreak. In places such as La Rambla de Poblenou, residents rushed to the outdoor dining areas to order their first cup of coffee in months. However, according to the Barcelona Catering Guild, nearly 3,300 sidewalk cafes will remain closed, despite the eased restrictions, because it is not financially “viable” for them to open at half capacity. Beach bars, known in Spain as chiringuitos, also reopened in the Catalan capital.

Residents in the Madrid region were also quick to take advantage of the relaxed lockdown conditions. Sidewalks cafes in the capital’s Plaza de Mayor square welcomed customers early in the morning, while families took the opportunity to come together for the first time in months.

Some people woke up at dawn to enjoy a run through Madrid’s famous El Retiro park. As birds chirped and the sun began to rise, Ángel Serrano was the first person to make it through the gates. Smaller parks in the city were reopened on May 8, but 19 – including Casa del Campo and Madrid Río – had remained off-limits until Monday. In an interview with radio station EsRadio, the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, said that people would be able to “go for a walk” in these green spaces, but could not remain there or “have a picnic.”

The head of Madrid’s environment department, Borja Carabante, was spotted in El Retiro at dawn, while 22-year-old aeronautical student Carlos welcomed the opportunity to take his dog Aika for a walk in the park. “This is an escape from the daily stress of the city,” said Carlos. Borja Cebamanos, 29, who was going for a run, agreed: “El Retiro is a place in the city where you can disconnect, I do this by running.”

Although some restrictions have been eased, the timetables for exercise and walks remain in place, meaning adults can only enter the park during their allotted time slot – 6am to 10am, and 8pm to 11pm, although the space closes at 9pm. By 6.30am, the park was filled with runners, cyclists, and people going for a walk. Some, however, were not so pleased by the public’s return. Juan Francisco Cózar, 55, who has been working at the park for 15 years, said he was worried the relaxed conditions could lead to a new outbreak in coronavirus cases. “It has been very calm, I have not been infected [with the coronavirus]. Let’s see what happens now,” he said. “Let’s see if they stop messing things up!”

On the Balearic island of Mallorca, which moved to Phase 2 on Monday, residents enjoyed a swim at the beach for the first time in months. Local authorities in the municipality of Calviá opened its beaches on Monday, but called for beach-goers to remain four meters apart.

Local authorities in the southern city of Cádiz, which also moved to Phase 2 today, opened beaches to the public on Monday with new measures to prevent coronavirus contagion already in place. At La Puntilla beach, for instance, two separate walkways have been installed to access the sand.

Meanwhile, in the Basque Country schools began to welcome back some students. In San Sebastián, 132 students at one school returned to class on Monday. The return to school is voluntary, reports Mike Ormazabal.

Other regions have taken a different approach to the return to school. In some regions, such as Aragón, students studying for their university entrance exams have been offered private tuition, while in Navarre, pupils at this level will return to school on June 1.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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