CORONAVIRUS

Chaos in Madrid, as regional government denies health chief’s announcement of new lockdowns

Sources close to the premier denied that any decisions have been made yet regarding stricter coronavirus measures, directly contradicting statements made earlier in the day by Antonio Zapatero

Madrid deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero in a file photo.
Madrid deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero in a file photo.Ricardo Rubio / Europa Press

Sources close to the Madrid regional premier, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, backtracked on Wednesday after her deputy health chief, Antonio Zapatero, announced that stricter coronavirus measures would be introduced in parts of the region this coming weekend in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking this morning, Zapatero told reporters that “action is needed as soon as possible,” adding that new decisions are being taken to “restrict mobility and the concentration of people.” The health chief added that “more drastic” measures were needed, “in line with what people could understand as selective lockdowns according to basic healthcare areas or healthcare areas with higher infection rates,” he said, referring both to the capital city and the Madrid region as a whole.

But the announcement reportedly caused widespread shock at a Cabinet meeting that Ayuso was presiding over, prompting members of her team to state that a decision had not yet been made, and will not be made until Friday. According to the premier’s trusted sources, there are other scenarios on the table.

The premier always supports any measure that is aimed at protecting the health of citizens. This measure is decisively supported by the premier
Madrid deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero

The communications disaster has left residents of the Madrid region in an environment of uncertainty, and is likely to prompt people to travel from the more affected areas of Madrid to other locations in a bid to avoid a potential new lockdown.

The internal controversy caused by Zapatero’s statements was such that the Cabinet meeting ran over by several hours, and the traditional press conference held afterward to explain agreements reached was canceled.

Sources close to Ayuso, from the conservative Popular Party (PP), stated that “at the government Cabinet meeting today [which began at 10am] no lockdowns were being considered. Zapatero has a number of scenarios planned, among them the possible selective confinement of neighborhoods.” They added that these were all “possible scenarios,” and that the final decision “will be taken on Friday.”

Among these possible scenarios, a government source added, is the announcement of a rise in the number of intensive care unit beds, the further reduction of the capacity of businesses and hostelry establishments and the number of people permitted at family gatherings.

Zapatero – who was hired by Díaz Ayuso after he ran the field hospital at the IFEMA convention center in Madrid that was set up to deal with coronavirus patients during the peak of the health crisis earlier this year – claimed this morning that he had told Ayuso about his plans earlier today “via WhatsApp.” “The premier always supports any measure that is aimed at protecting the health of citizens,” he added. “This measure is decisively supported by the premier.”

During his statements on Wednesday, however, Zapatero failed to offer much detail about the plans. He did not state which areas could be confined, nor how this would be put into practice. He also failed to clarify whether the measures would include the closure of recently reopened schools or bars and restaurants. “If the situation in Madrid advances, Madrid will take the measures it has to,” he said on Wednesday morning.

Vallecas and Humanes

According to the latest epidemiological monitoring report, published on Tuesday by the Spanish Health Ministry, the average incidence of the coronavirus in the last 14 days in the Madrid region came in at 651.50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The city district with the highest infection rate is Vallecas, with 1,240.76, while Humanes is the municipality with the highest rate, which is at 1,058.60 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Both Zapatero and Elena Andradas, the general director of the region’s Public Health department, highlighted the need for people with active infections to respect quarantine guidelines, adding that there were currently high levels of non-compliance. In such cases, Andradas explained, “the door is opened to fines for the breach of isolation measures.”

Zapatero added that his government has called on the central Health Ministry to reduce the isolation period from 14 days to seven. The criteria for doing so, he explained, were healthcare related. “In recent weeks the infectious period of the virus is in the first seven days; this is a fact that many specialists have observed. France and Germany are thinking about it and the ministry has accepted it as a possibility,” he said, in reference to the reduction of the quarantine period.

A total of 26 classes in the Madrid school system have been isolated due to positive coronavirus cases

The health chief also explained that there are now 178 classes in quarantine among the region’s education system. “This is 0.5% of the total, given that we count on a total of 35,000 classrooms,” he explained.

The first week of the region’s schools' reopening, which was last week, saw a total of 26 classes isolated due to positive coronavirus cases. There has also been an outbreak at a nursery school in the capital city, with five cases between children aged from one to three. “A sixth case has been detected in the same school, but it was unrelated,” Andradas explained.

Since the end of the state of alarm implemented by the Spanish central government in March, the country’s regional governments have been in charge of the measures aimed at controlling the virus. The Madrid regional government – which is governed by the PP and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), with the support of far-right Vox – has been widely criticized for inaction both with regard to preparing the reopening of schools and for failure to prevent the region from once again becoming the epicenter of the ongoing coronavirus health crisis.

Current coronavirus restrictions in Madrid limit meetings in public and private to 10 people if they do not live together. Capacity at religious sites, cemeteries and funeral homes is at 60% of the usual level, as are weddings, baptisms and communions. Occupation of counters in bars is limited to 50% of capacity, while chairs in restaurants and other establishments must be 1.5 meters apart.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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