Madrid, Catalonia reject deal to confine areas with high coronavirus contagion levels

Several Spanish regions opt out of a plan introducing stricter restrictions to curb soaring transmission

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa in Congress on Wednesday.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa in Congress on Wednesday.EUROPA PRESS/E. Parra. POOL (Europa Press)
Oriol Güell

Most Spanish regions on Wednesday supported a plan to introduce new coronavirus restrictions in large cities with high transmission figures. But Madrid, Galicia, Catalonia, Andalusia and the exclave city of Ceuta rejected it, while Murcia abstained.

The Catalan government spokesperson, Meritxell Budó, said that Catalonia already has its own restrictions in place and that these are more stringent than those established by the Spanish Health Ministry.

Madrid regional officials had on Wednesday afternoon once again cast doubt on the possibility of a deal with the Spanish Health Ministry over new coronavirus restrictions that could mean the confinement of the capital.

In a statement ahead of an afternoon meeting of central and regional officials to approve the plan, the Madrid health department said that “it must be noted that Madrid is a collection of 21 districts, of which 18 have over 100,000 residents, and therefore the indicators cannot be applied to the city as a whole.”

Madrid mayor: "We cannot afford a confinement"

Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida, of the Popular Party, said on Wednesday that the capital cannot “under any circumstance” afford another confinement like the one experienced in March and April, when the country was in lockdown. “Obviously we have to safeguard health, and without health there is no economy, but we also need to consider that the economic and social situation that we are facing and that we are going to face means taking measures and finding a balance that prioritizes health, but without the entire economy collapsing,” he said.

The regional health department demands to know “the scientific and technical basis supporting the new criteria of [a 14-day cumulative incidence rate of] 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants proposed by the Health Ministry.” It also asks to use more criteria than “just the three indicators that were established in the last few hours.”

The remarks alluded to a preliminary deal reached on Tuesday evening between the Madrid region and the Spanish government, after the latter had threatened to step in if the regional government – which has powers over healthcare – did not take measures to address the soaring levels of coronavirus infections.

The new developments cast doubt on the success of a deal meant to address the situation in Madrid, which accounts for one third of all new cases, where primary healthcare professionals are seeing up to 120 patients a day, and where some hospitals' critical care units are already at capacity.

The Health Ministry had managed to get the regional administration of Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), to accept the conditions that its experts were demanding. These measures include the confinement of areas with a population of 100,000 and over that meet three criteria: a cumulative incidence of Covid-19 over 14 days above 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a positivity rate – the number of PCR tests that come back positive – of more than 10%; and 35% of intensive care beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

Under the plan approved on Wednesday, if a region detects that a municipality has figures above these thresholds, it must order the selective confinement of the area “within 48 hours,” according to the draft agreement reached by both sides on Tuesday. This means that residents in the affected zones will only be able to enter and leave for essential business, such as to go to work, to school, to take care of a dependent or for a medical visit. Trips to renew permits and official documents or for exams will also be allowed. Traffic will be permitted to pass through the restricted area as long as it is coming from and heading to a different destination.

Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso at a press conference on Tuesday.
Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso at a press conference on Tuesday. JuanJo Martín (EFE)

Within the affected zones, residents will be able to move about while respecting social distancing and other safety rules. Confinement measures, however, will not be needed if at least 90% of coronavirus cases detected in the municipality correspond to identified and controlled outbreaks outside of the family sphere, according to the document.

Areas that exceed the thresholds for transmission, positivity and ICU occupancy rate will also be subject to restrictions on social activities. According to the draft, social gatherings will be limited to six people, both in private and public spaces. Exceptions will be made for people who live in the same home and the workplace.

Under the proposal, children’s playgrounds will be closed in the affected areas, while capacity at religious sites will be cut to one-third and funeral attendees reduced to 15 people in outdoor spaces and 10 indoors.

Shops, hostelry establishments and betting houses will see capacity reduced to 50% indoors and 60% outdoors. All commercial establishments will have to close by 10pm, and consumption at bar counters will be prohibited.

The cities of Madrid, Parla and Funlabrabada in the Madrid region and Pamplona in Navarre are among those that may be affected if the agreement is approved by Inter-territorial Health Committee. According to the draft, 11 cities have an incidence rate above 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Madrid indicators

Madrid has the highest 14-day cumulative incidence of Covid-19 in Spain, with 789 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, more than double the national average of 294. The regional government – which is run by the conservative Popular Party (PP) in coalition with center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), and propped up by far-right Vox – has restricted movement in 45 basic healthcare areas in a bid to control contagion, but the Health Ministry urged for tougher action. It wanted the restrictions to be extended to all areas with an incidence rate above 500 cases per 100,000, a reduction in capacity in bars across the region, and the total prohibition of consumption at bar counters.

After long negotiations, the Madrid administration of PP premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso on Tuesday agreed to accept the confinement criteria – incidence rate above 500 cases, positivity rate above 10% and ICU occupancy at 35% – but on the condition that it be applied to all areas in Spain with more than 100,000 residents.

This was one of the main demands of Ayuso’s government in recent weeks, with the PP claiming that the inexistence of these criteria allowed the Spanish government – which is run by a coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos – to punish Madrid for political reasons.

English version by Melissa Kitson and Susana Urra.

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