With four days left to go before the expiration of the state of alarm introduced by the central government in the Madrid region in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, there was still uncertainty on Tuesday as to the measures that will be put in place in the area from Saturday onward. Speaking this morning during an event organized by news agency Europa Press, regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero stated that among the options his administration is considering is a curfew imposed by the central government. This possibility was later confirmed by the Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa.
The Madrid region – which is run by a coalition of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens), propped up by far-right Vox – has been at loggerheads with the central government – led by the Socialist Party (PSOE) in coalition with junior partner Unidas Podemos – in recent weeks over how to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Madrid, which has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the country during both the first and second waves. After failing to reach an agreement on how to proceed, the central government intervened on October 9 and implemented a two-week state of alarm, giving it powers to confine nine municipalities – including the Spanish capital. Citizens can leave their homes, but not their cities, apart from for a series of exceptions such as going to work.
Until today, there have been widespread doubts about what will replace the state of alarm, with a meeting scheduled on Wednesday between the Health Ministry and the country’s regions aimed at setting out new common criteria and actions to be taken across the country should the epidemiological situation worsen. An initial scheme agreed on by the regions was rejected by the Madrid government, and struck down by the regional High Court, prompting the central government to intervene.
“A curfew would allow us to establish at certain times something we are all familiar with, for there to be no mobility, as France has introduced, for example,” Ruiz Escudero said on Tuesday morning. “[On Monday] we had a meeting with [Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the PP] and the professional associations, and it was practically their own proposal to study this option. But to do this, legal coverage is needed that the Madrid region does not have, it would have to be a decision made by the Spanish government. It’s a decision that we would not consider to be a bad one.”
Ever since Spain emerged from a prolonged lockdown in June, the Madrid government has been insisting on the need to protect the economy. “For the most financially vulnerable, the decisions that are taken could mean not being able to recover,” said Ruiz Escudero on Tuesday. “The virus has come to stay, and the idea is not to stop life in such a drastic way [as in the spring].” In late September, Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso stressed the need to keep social and commercial routines in place: “To me, the solution lies in locating the 1% that is infecting others and for the other 99% to go on with their lives,” she said at the time.
Ruiz Escudero said on Tuesday that for now, the idea has been discussed “on an internal basis” and has not been shared with other regional health chiefs. But other regional governments have made similar proposals to the Health Ministry, and the option has not been ruled out as topic of debate at the upcoming meeting of central and regional health officials on Wednesday, according to sources in the central executive.
Sources from the regional government have explained that they would want the curfew in place across the region, from midnight to 6am, so that bars and restaurants could continue with their activity, but outdoor drinking and parties in private residences could be avoided.
Sources from the central government, meanwhile, said on Tuesday that a curfew would not be implemented unless all of the regions were in agreement. The issue could be further complicated given that the Popular Party does not want a state of alarm, but does want a curfew – something that will cause legal complications. Health Minister Salvador Illa made clear today that a state of alarm will be essential if such tough restrictions on freedom of movement are to be implemented.
Basic healthcare restrictions
As well as a possible curfew, Madrid health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero also floated the idea of returning to confinements according to basic healthcare areas, a measure that the regional government put in place but was deemed to be insufficient by the central administration. Basic healthcare areas are administrative divisions smaller than a city district that may contain one or more public healthcare centers.
Representatives from the Madrid and central governments are due to hold their usual meeting today to study the epidemiological situation in the region, which is improving but continues to be of great concern to experts. Since last week, there have been 13,443 registered coronavirus cases in Madrid, and 28,984 in the last 14 days. Without taking into account the notification delays, which can be as long as three weeks in the region, the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Madrid was 439 according to the latest Health Ministry report. The national average is 312, and currently only the regions of Aragón, Castilla y León, Navarre and La Rioja have worse figures.
The regional government continues to insist that the imposition of the state of alarm by the central administration was a “violation” and that “they hope” that the meeting on Wednesday between the regions and the ministry will not see any more “impositions” of the emergency measure in order to give legal coverage to perimetral confinements. In the meantime, Ruiz Escudero said that he is considering two scenarios. “One is the imposition [of the state of alarm] by the Spanish government, which could extend it even though the epidemiological situation is much better.” The other option, he explained, was the same strategy they opted for initially: “Which is slowing down infections in the basic healthcare areas with high incidence.”
English version by Simon Hunter.