CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Madrid authorities warn that government’s coronavirus restrictions will cause ‘chaos’

The region will implement the measures from 10pm tonight, but is filing an appeal against them with the Spanish High Court

Madrid regional ministers Enrique López (l) and Enrique Ruiz Escudero during Friday's press conference.
Madrid regional ministers Enrique López (l) and Enrique Ruiz Escudero during Friday's press conference.Jes˙s HellÌn; Jesús Hellín / Europa Press

The Madrid government will implement the central government’s new coronavirus restrictions from 10pm tonight, meaning that residents of the Spanish capital and nine other cities in the region will be restricted from leaving their municipalities for at least the next two weeks apart from a series of exceptions, including going to work.

The move comes at a time when Madrid is once again the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in Spain, and according to the latest Health Ministry data, currently accounts for 35% of new cases despite having just 14% of the country’s population. In recent weeks 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 been engaged in a battle with the central government, which wants to see greater restrictions in the region in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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Throughout the crisis, Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso has been highly critical of the handling of the situation by the government, which is run by the Socialist Party (PSOE) in coalition with junior partner Unidas Podemos, and tensions have been running especially high between the two administrations in recent weeks. Ayuso has introduced similar restrictions to those in the government’s plan over recent weeks in 45 healthcare areas of Madrid, affecting around one million people. However, she has been unwilling to go further, citing the damage to the region’s economy and claiming that the central government wants to impose restrictions for political reasons, rather than ones of public health.

The Madrid government on Friday filed an appeal with Spain’s High Court against the measures on the basis that they encroach on the region’s powers, despite having been voted for by a majority of the country’s 17 regions earlier this week. The regions agreed that the plan will be implemented in all Spanish cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants when the following criteria are met: a cumulative coronavirus infection rate over two weeks that exceeds 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a positivity rate of PCR tests that is above 10%, and more than 35% of intensive care unit beds occupied by Covid-19 patients. For now, only municipalities in Madrid meet those criteria.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday afternoon to explain the measures, the region’s justice chief Enrique López and health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero explained that citizens who opt to leave the affected areas – Madrid, Parla, Fuenlabrada, Alcobendas, Torrejón de Ardoz, Getafe, Alcorcón, Leganés, Móstoles and Alcalá de Henares – will not, for now, be fined until the courts rule on the appeal. “But the recommendation is that you do not make journeys,” López added.

Three healthcare areas will also see the same restrictions, despite having fewer than the 100,000 residents stipulated in the central government’s measures. They are Reyes Católicos in San Sebastián de los Reyes, Humanes and Villa del Prado.

Central government to blame

At the press conference on Friday, López acknowledged the concerns that the uncertainty over these new measures has caused, but placed the blame elsewhere. “This chaos has been caused by the government [of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez],” he said.

López also described the central government’s measures as “ineffective” and called the order “null and void.” But, he continued, “the region is obliged to comply.” He also claimed that the measures would cost the region’s economy €8 billion. “The court appeal is to defend the rule of law, our self-governance and the health of Madrileños.”

Ruiz Escudero also criticized the central government for not having established coronavirus checks at Madrid’s Barajas Airport or the major train stations such as Chamartín and Atocha.

One of the effects of the introduction of the new measures is that the nearly one million residents of the 45 basic healthcare zones who had already been confined to their areas by the regional government will be able to freely move around their city from 10pm tonight. The Health Ministry order will supersede those introduced by the regional government until the courts say otherwise.

This was something else that Ruiz Escudero criticized during the press conference on Friday. “It would make more sense to separate the 21 [districts in Madrid] and establish perimeters around them, differentiating those that have high infection rates and those that have low ones, and restricting mobility between them,” he said. “Now citizens will be able to move all over the capital of Madrid, which has a population of 3.2 million.”

The health chief also made clear that the limit of six people for meetings in public and in private would be applicable to the whole region from tonight, and defended the measures his government had already put in place. “The general trend is favorable,” he said. “They indicate that the measures we are taking are working.”

During the press conference, Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso published a message on Twitter that read: "From tomorrow, you’ll be able to come to Madrid from Berlin but not from Parla. Thank you for the chaos Pedro Sánchez.

During a parallel press conference, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez defended his government’s plan for Madrid. “We are not talking about confinement, we are talking about limiting movement,” he said. “The situation in Madrid is critical because it accounts for 33% of the victims. We are faced with an extraordinarily serious moment in the Madrid region, without a doubt. We are talking about saving lives, of defending public health.”

The prime minister went on to say that the measures that the Madrid region has taken so far “are appropriate, but they are insufficient. The doctors say so, healthcare workers say so – that more drastic measures are needed.”

Based on reporting by Isabel Valdés and Manuel Viejo.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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