Madrid will observe central government’s new coronavirus restrictions, but plans to challenge them in the courts

The Health Ministry on Thursday published new regulations in the Official State Gazette that will see the capital and nine other municipalities in the region confined, something regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso has been fighting to avoid

Health Minister Salvador Illa.
Health Minister Salvador Illa.Juan Carlos Hidalgo (EFE)

The Spanish government on Thursday published new health regulations in the Official State Gazette (BOE) establishing restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

The restrictions are based on an agreement reached on Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of central and regional health officials known as the Inter-Territorial Council of Spain’s National Health System. Although a majority approved the new measures, key regions such as Madrid, Catalonia, Andalusia and Galicia rejected the plan, underscoring a division of opinion over the best way to address a growing health crisis.

The new measures entail restricting movement in municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more that meet three criteria: a 14-day cumulative incidence of coronavirus cases exceeding 500 per 100,000 inhabitants, at least 10% of PCR tests coming back positive, and more than 35% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds taken up by Covid-19 patients.

The restrictions involve limiting people’s ability to enter and leave the confined area except for essential activities such as going to work or school, reducing the size of social gatherings, and establishing earlier closing times for businesses, among other measures.

The new rules were published today in the BOE in the form of a resolution, and regional governments are expected to officialize them as well in the coming 48 hours, regardless of the way they voted on Wednesday. A report by the Solicitor General’s Office notes that the new norms are mandatory, and that regional governments have the obligation to observe them.

Opposition from Madrid

Regional officials in the Madrid region – which is run by a center-right coalition of the Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens), propped up by far-right Vox – initially announced that they would consult their own legal experts to see what steps to take next. “This Council cannot impose anything on us,” said Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso in an interview on EsRadio, alluding to Wednesday’s meeting of central and regional health officials. Díaz Ayuso said that the government’s plan “destroys Madrid without criteria.”

Later on Thursday, Díaz Ayuso said that the Madrid government will adopt the agreement after all, but warned that it will appeal the same in court. “This region is not rebelling. We will obey, but we will go to the courts to defend the legitimate interests of Madrileños and ensure that the measures are adjusted to regulation, to reality, and that they are objective and fair,” she said inside the regional parliament.

The question of how to handle the spread of the coronavirus in Madrid, which has once again become the national epicenter of the health crisis, has escalated into an open battle between regional authorities and the central government, which is run by a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos.

The Madrid region has been implementing selective lockdowns in basic healthcare areas, which are administrative units much smaller than a city district, and only where the 14-day cumulative incidence is above 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents. The central government instead wants to confine entire municipalities, and its threshold for doing so is 500 cases per 100,000. This would mean confining the entire Spanish capital, something that regional and municipal authorities are resisting.

The central executive said that regional authorities have 48 hours to publish the measures in their own regional gazettes after being officially notified of them, and that it has the power to impose the restrictions based on public sector legislation passed in 2015.

Right now, the Spanish capital and nine other municipalities in the Madrid region meet the criteria for restrictions on mobility: Parla, Fuenlabrada, Alcobendas, Torrejón de Ardoz, Getafe, Alcorcón, Leganés, Móstoles and Alcalá de Henares.

Under the criteria approved on Wednesday, these cities have to establish a perimetral lockdown and introduce other restrictions on social gatherings. These measures are already in place in 45 basic healthcare areas in the region, although that move – which was implemented in two stages over the last two weeks – has drawn widespread criticism for having focused in many cases on working-class neighborhoods.

Díaz Ayuso was highly critical of the central government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis during the 99-day lockdown that kept Spaniards mostly confined to their homes between mid-March and mid-June. The regional premier argued that her government would be much better at managing the health crisis in Madrid. But ever since healthcare powers were restored to the regions, the epidemiological situation in Madrid has been steadily deteriorating. The region now has a 14-day cumulative coronavirus incidence of 735 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with the national average of 284.

Despite this, Díaz Ayuso has expressed her unwillingness to confine Madrid and has accused the central government of trying to impose strict measures on the region for political reasons. The premier says that their own measures based on selective confinement are working. On Thursday, the regional government announced that it will allow the police to access public health information in order to facilitate oversight of quarantine obligations by individuals who tested positive for Covid-19.

English version by Susana Urra.

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