CORONAVIRUS

With 70% of Spain in Phase 3 of the coronavirus deescalation plan, the regions resist allowing free movement

Fear of new outbreaks is also prompting regional governments to maintain limits on nighttime bars and nightclubs

“Only justified travel allowed between regions,” reads this sign on the S30 highway to Seville.
“Only justified travel allowed between regions,” reads this sign on the S30 highway to Seville.José Manuel Vidal

When the sixth and final extension to Spain’s state of alarm was approved, meaning that the emergency measures implemented to deal with the coronavirus would be in place until June 21, the ball was passed to the court of the regions that were moving into Phase 3, the final deescalation stage. It is the regional governments in this final part of the process that will decide on whether or not to permit movement between them, provided they agree with each other. Once they have taken charge, some of these administrations – that were urging the central government to speed things up while it had control of their powers – have slammed on the brakes, with fears over new infections and spikes of the coronavirus prompting them to limit mobility to provinces within the same region, despite the fact that in Phase 3 – in which 70% of the population finds itself from today – movement could have been negotiated between provinces.

This situation will come to an end next Sunday, when the final extension to the state of alarm ends and Spaniards will be able to move freely across the entire territory. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced yesterday that borders will also be reopened to European Union and Schengen-area countries, apart from Portugal, and the two-week quarantine requirement will be scrapped.

Galicia, the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Castilla y León, Murcia, Navarre and the Basque Country have decided to delay the opening of nighttime bars and nightclubs

Meanwhile, the plans that some regions had with regard to movement – a “Cantabrian corridor” between Navarre and Galicia had been mooted, for example – have been put on hold after a new outbreak in the Basque Country. The regional premier of Cantabria, Miguel Ángel Revilla, announced on Sunday that he would lift the state of alarm, as he has the powers to do under Phase 3 of the deescalation plan, in order to bring forward the possibility of movement between neighboring regions before the weekend. He will, however, have to reach an agreement to do so with his neighbors beforehand.

The majority of the regional governments do not want to get ahead of themselves and have announced that they will wait until the whole of Spain is in the so-called “new normality.” Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the regional premier of Galicia, which is the only region in Spain to leave Phase 3 today and see the state of alarm lifted, on Saturday called for “a public health law that allows for mobility between territories with a pandemic situation to be prohibited if the number of contagions is high.”

What can happen now – apart from in the seven territories in Phase 2, which are the Madrid region, Barcelona and its metropolitan area, the healthcare area of Lleida and the provinces of Salamanca, Ávila, Segovia and Soria – is movement between provinces in the same region. Limits only remain in Castilla-La Mancha, which has divided the region into two: citizens in the provinces that entered this stage a week ago (Guadalajara and Cuenca) can move between the two, but those that are doing so today (Toledo, Ciudad Real and Albacete) will not be able to cross provincial lines until next week.

Above all else, the different speeds that each region is adopting in this asymmetrical Phase 3 are reflected in nightlife, one of the controversial points of this last phase before the so-called “new normality.” The central government has gone no further than proposing a framework, which consists of opening these premises with a third of their usual capacity and with no dance floors. Galicia, the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Castilla y León, Murcia, Navarre and the Basque Country have decided to delay the opening of nighttime bars and nightclubs on the basis that they could be a focal point for infections. They don’t want to repeat what happened in South Korea, where an outbreak in nightclubs in May forced the adoption of new strict measures and a delay to the reopening of schools. They have taken this decision despite generalized protests in the sector, which views the measures as discriminatory, given that the public can enter cafés and restaurants.

The restrictions on movement will come to an end next Sunday, when the final extension to the state of alarm ends

The rest of the regions in Phase 3 will permit nightlife activities to restart with the restrictions proposed by the government, except Extremadura, which while having decided to keep its nightclubs closed in this last phase and continue to prohibit movement between provinces, from today will allow its citizens to move between Cáceres and Badajoz, as well as opening nighttime venues at 50% of capacity.

Beyond mobility and nightlife, the differences that the regions have introduced in Phase 3 are subtle. While timetables for physical exercise have been lifted, Castilla-La Mancha and the Basque Country have decided to maintain a priority time for seniors and vulnerable groups. There are also small variations with regard to the capacity of businesses: the general rule is to open at 50% but Aragón, for example, has extended this to 75%, as well as allowing the use of common and recreational areas in shopping malls. The Basque Country has set capacity at 60%, as well as in cultural spaces such as libraries, museums, exhibition centers and cinemas, where the general rule is also 50%.

All of these conditions and the restrictions for the seven territories in Phase 2 will last for less than a week. From June 21, the new normality will come into force, which will see some restrictions remain, such as the obligation to use masks when a safe distance of 1.5 meters cannot be respected. The regions will continue to have the last word on many issues, such as capacity. The Galician regional government will from today maintain a capacity limit of 75%, as a general rule. What it won’t be able to do, however, is limit mobility, something that can only be done after the state of alarm is lifted in areas where there are new outbreaks.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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