The Catalan government on Friday announced it will implement new restrictions due to the rising cases of coronavirus in the region. Social measures are already in place in the municipality of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, located just six kilometers southwest of the city of Barcelona, including limits on the capacity of bars and restaurants, and the closure of nightlife venues, cultural activities and gyms.
Similar restrictions will now be rolled out to the Catalan capital and its metropolitan area, as well as the comarca of La Noguera in Lleida province, an area comprising 30 municipalities, and in the comarca of Segrià, which includes the city of Lleida. The regional government has also called on residents to limit their journeys as much as possible, and avoid traveling to second residences this weekend.
The authorities announced on Friday that they are preparing two resolutions to impose the measures, the first to cover Barcelona and its metropolitan area, and another one for the Lleida comarca of La Noguera and a number of municipalities in Segrià.
The measures will affect four million people in the areas of Barcelona, Viladecans, el Prat de Llobregat, Sant Joan Despí, Sant Boi de Llobregat, Cornellà, Sant Just Desvern, Esplugues de Llobregat, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Montcada i Rexach, Santa Coloma de Gramanet, Sant Adrià de Besós and Badalona. They are expected to be in place for two weeks.
The package of restrictions is, the regional government said, a reminder to citizens to not let their guard down. “We want to raise the alarm and draw attention to the worrying progression of Covid-19 in our country,” said government spokesperson Meritxell Budó on Friday at a press conference, in reference to the Catalonia region. “This is a difficult moment. We need to act quickly to avoid the situation in which we found ourselves in March,” she said, referring to the start of the epidemic in Spain. Budó also explained that social meetings will be limited to 10 people.
The Catalonia region reported 1,300 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours on Thursday, the majority of which – 884 – were in the Catalan capital and neighbouring municipalities.
The regional health chief, Alba Vergés, on Friday called on citizens in the affected areas to “avoid social meetings, nightlife and cultural activities.” She announced that restaurants will have to limit their capacity to 50% indoors, with no consumption at bars permitted. Outdoor tables will have to be separated by two meters. Vergés called on residents to only leave home for “essential” tasks, with retail and other commercial activity carried out with no contact and by prior appointment, apart from supermarkets and pharmacies, among others. Libraries and museums will remain open for now, as will summer camps.
“We need to maximise measures in a context where infection rates are high,” she said. “These measures are essential.”
Vergés also called on people to not visit beaches, saying that such trips were “avoidable.” She called on people to “stay at home, to go out only to work and to buy essential items,” and to do so “in their neighborhood, in their municipality.”
Recommendations, not orders
The regional government insisted that the limitation on movement was a recommendation, and not a confinement order or ban. The regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, will be able to set up checkpoints on roads to request information from motorists, but will not be able to fine people.
Catalonia’s regional interior minister, Miquel Buch, explained that “the police will ask people to return to their homes, but this is not a ban [on being outdoors]. We call on you to stay at home.” He also stated that the measures are likely to last two weeks.
The region has seen a number of active outbreaks over more than two weeks, and an incessant trickle of cases since the end of the state of alarm, which was implemented by the Spanish government on March 14 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
In the last few weeks, the most concerning situation has been in the comarca of Segrià in Lleida, where there have been more than 2,000 cases – mostly among seasonal fruit pickers.
More recently, cases in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat and Barcelona have shifted attention to the Catalan capital and its metropolitan area, which are densely populated and have a higher risk of community transmission.
L’Hospitalet has a number of ongoing outbreaks and 500 detected infections in the last two weeks. Barcelona has registered 29 small outbreaks throughout the city, but has detected a total of 414 cases in the last week.
The Catalan regional government has been widely criticized for its handling of the situation since its full powers were returned when the state of alarm came to an end. A lack of forward planning and resources to track and trace cases and their contacts has been one of the recurrent complaints among the medical sector. The head of the Covid-19 monitoring unit in Catalonia, Jacobo Mendioroz, admitted on Thursday that some measures could have been implemented earlier. “With Lleida we got there a little late; with Hospitalet we did it better,” he said.
New measures in Galicia, Basque Country
In the Basque Country, the regional health chief said that most of the active outbreaks are located in the province of Guipúzcoa. Nekane Murga also noted the relevance of the 15-to-35 age bracket in spreading the virus due to their active social life. New measures are being introduced in the towns of Zarautz, Tolosa and Eibar to reduce food and drink venue capacity by half, ban private gatherings at sociedades gastronómicas – traditional Basque cooking clubs – and forbid outdoor celebrations that might draw large crowds.
English version by Simon Hunter.