Spain’s health minister rules out new lockdown, Madrid perimeter confinement

Speaking during a radio interview, Salvador Illa said such measures would not be “appropriate” at the present time, despite rising coronavirus infection rates

A sidewalk café in Madrid.
A sidewalk café in Madrid.Rodrigo Jiménez (EFE)

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa on Thursday ruled out a general confinement of the population, as was implemented in March at the outset of the coronavirus crisis, and also said that a “perimeter lockdown” of Madrid was not viable, despite the ongoing rise in cases in the region.

Speaking during an interview on the SER Catalunya station, the minister was responding to the premier of the Castilla-La Mancha region, Emiliano García-Page, who said this week that 80% of the infections in his region had arrived from the “radioactive viral bomb that went off in Madrid.”

The latest figures from the Health Ministry show that there is a sustained rise in coronavirus cases in all regions

The health chief from Castilla-La Mancha has also called for social meetings to be limited in the Madrid region, as well as the introduction of other measures that are already in place in other areas of Spain.

“A perimeter lockdown is not appropriate right now,” Illa said about Madrid, a day after holding a meeting with the health chiefs from Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León about how to reduce the infection rates in the regions. During the meeting, the epidemiological situation of all three areas was discussed, and an agreement was reached to hold regular meetings, according to sources from Illa’s ministry, with the aim of “preventing future scenarios and coordinating actions if necessary.”

Regional control

Since the end of the state of alarm implemented by the Spanish government in March, which saw one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, the regions have been in charge of controlling the spread of the virus, given that they have powers over their healthcare systems as well as other areas, such as education. Since that transfer of competences in June, however, a second wave of the coronavirus has taken hold in Spain. The central government has been criticized by opposition groups such as the Popular Party (PP) for what they describe as a lack of leadership, but for now has opted to leave matters in the hands of the 17 regional governments, offering a local lockdown if requested as well as members of the military to assist with track and trace programs.

The Madrid regional health chief, Enrique Escudero, was critical of García-Page’s comments on Thursday. He said that “seeking to find culprits” during the pandemic is “an absolutely worthless argument,” adding that “the virus behaves the way that it behaves,” and that it “is to blame for what is happening.” “It’s as if in this second wave we were blaming the seasonal workers who went to Lérida and then from that point the infections started to rise in the rest of the regions... For me, these are arguments that almost border on the ridiculous,” he said, speaking to Spanish TV channel Telecinco.

Illa explained that in major urban centers such as Barcelona and Madrid the measures to contain the virus “must be very well thought out,” but he underlined that in general “a very good job is being done across the board.”

The latest figures from the Health Ministry show that there is a sustained rise in coronavirus cases in all regions, apart from in Aragón, which is seeing a fall, and Catalonia and the Basque Country, which are seeing infection levels stabilize. For now, however, this situation is not seeing excessive pressure on the country’s hospitals, as was the case in March and April, during the state of alarm.

“We are in a scenario of control,” said Illa on Thursday. “We need to detect cases and act quickly and forcefully in order to break the chains of transmission.” The minister added that now is not the time to apply general measures across the country, and that no one should interpret the implementation of local or regional restrictions as “finger pointing.”

Both the Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso and her deputy Ignacio Aguado reacted angrily this week to comments made by the government’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón and the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, regarding their concerns about the situation in Madrid.

On Monday, after hearing Simón’s comments about the situation in the region, Ayuso accused the Health Ministry of “unfair, disproportionate cruelty, which is damaging for Spain.” The deputy premier, Ignacio Aguado of Ciudadanos, on Tuesday criticized what he called the government’s “self-serving obsession” with Madrid.

“No overload”

“We are seeing an increase in cases, but it has no comparison with what we went through in March, there is no overload of the system,” Illa said on Thursday. “We have to take concrete actions, as we are doing,” he continued, adding that there is “no contradiction between the economy and public health.”

As for the imminent start of the new academic year, Illa stressed that classes would be able to get going in September, and if there are any outbreaks in schools there are already protocols regarding how to react.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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