CORONAVIRUS

Confusion persists over curfew plans for Madrid once state of alarm expires

Meanwhile, Aragón and La Rioja have announced new coronavirus restrictions on movement in an attempt to curb infection rates

Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso at a press conference on Wednesday.
Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso at a press conference on Wednesday.Pool Efe / GTRES

Once again, Madrileños were left unsure as to their fate this weekend as the end of the current state of alarm – imposed by the central government in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus – approaches, with the emergency situation due to come to an end on Saturday.

According to regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero, the Madrid regional government is preparing a curfew order to restrict movement between midnight and 6am from Saturday onward, he said during an interview with state broadcaster TVE.

“What we are determining are measures to establish more exhaustive control, principally from midnight to 6am, measures that will restrict movement and the concentration [of people] that produces these contagions,” he explained.

What’s most important to us is that the economy does not suffer any more
Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso

But speaking at a press conference at midday Wednesday, Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso said that the exact restrictions will be announced on Friday and will come into effect on Saturday, neglecting to use the term “curfew” at any point. “The Madrid government is considering what surgical measures we can put into place that bring together the economy and health and allow us to move forward,” she said at a press conference, without confirming whether a curfew was one of the measures. “What’s most important to us is that the economy does not suffer any more.”

The Spanish government declared a state of alarm in the Madrid region on October 9 in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus. Under the emergency measure, nine cities – including the Spanish capital – were placed under a perimetral lockdown and subject to other restrictions on social gatherings. The move was fiercely opposed by the Madrid administration, which claimed the restrictions would hurt business in the region.

The question of how to contain the coronavirus pandemic has been the source of an ongoing dispute between the Spanish government, headed by a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos, and the Madrid government, run by a center-right alliance of the Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens), propped up by far-right Vox.

The state of alarm only lasts for 15 days and will expire on Saturday. After that time, the coronavirus restrictions introduced in the Madrid region will no longer be valid. There were widespread doubts about what would replace the emergency measure, but on Tuesday Escudero announced that the regional government was considering a curfew.

“We are detecting that the greatest percentage of contagions are in the 15 to 29 age group, and are mainly associated with nightlife. The only proposal we have made is, in view of what we are detecting from the public health department, to take measures to reduce the number of these cases,” Escudero said on Wednesday during an interview with Spanish television channel Telecinco.

Under the current state of alarm, bars and restaurants in cities under lockdown must close by 11pm and service at bar counters is prohibited. But if a curfew is introduced – instead of a state of alarm – citizens will still be able to go out to eat and drink as long as they return home by midnight. The measure would be aimed at stopping outdoor drinking sessions, known as botellones, which were banned in mid-August, and underground parties that have been detected given the nationwide closure of nightclubs and nighttime venues.

It’s unacceptable that on October 21 we don’t have defined rules nor scenarios nor calendars as a nation
Madrid deputy premier Igancio Aguado

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Díaz Ayuso, of the PP, did not specify what measures would be taken, but argued that reducing capacity or the business hours of bars and restaurants “did nothing,” because people move instead to private parties, where the virus is being spread.

The Madrid deputy premier, Ignacio Aguado of Ciudadanos, who has come into conflict with Díaz Ayuso in recent weeks over the handling of the health crisis, said that 80% of coronavirus cases happen in the home and that young people account for 30% of contagions.

But the proposed curfew has turned into another point of conflict between the Madrid and central government. The Spanish government is considering introducing a nighttime curfew across the whole of the country, but believes this restriction needs to be introduced under a nationwide state of alarm – an argument that Madrid contends.

Díaz Ayuso also continued to push on Wednesday for perimetral lockdowns based on healthcare areas, which are smaller than a city district and can include several primary healthcare centers – a move the Health Ministry does not believe goes far enough.

Growing support for curfew

Several regional leaders have expressed support for a nighttime curfew to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu said his government was open to the idea; Valencia leader Ximo Puig said it was “fairly reasonable” to introduce the measure across Spain – but called for it to be set between midnight and 5am; the premier of Andalusia, Juan Manuel Moreno, stated that he would apply the measure “if the experts recommended it;” and the leader of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García Page, stated that he would be willing to accept a curfew if it received unanimous support from Spain’s Inter-territorial Health Committee – which brings together the country’s regional healthcare chiefs.

This committee is set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the Health Ministry’s proposal for a four-level coronavirus alert system aimed at clarifying the measures that should be taken to contain the epidemic, depending on the risk level in each territory. If the plan is approved by a majority of Spain’s regions, the Madrid government may be forced to adhere to the measures, regardless of whether it voted in favor of the plan or not – as happened when the committee agreed that perimetral lockdowns and social restrictions should be applied in municipalities of over 100,000 inhabitants that exceeded specific thresholds. Although the Madrid government applied the rules, it immediately appealed the measures, and the Madrid High Court struck down the confinement measures for lacking a valid legal framework.

Aguado, who appeared at Wednesday’s press conference beside Díaz Ayuso, accused Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of being a “mere spectator” of the second wave of the pandemic and called for unified rules on how to contain the spread of the virus. “It’s unacceptable that on October 21 we don’t have defined rules nor scenarios nor calendars as a nation,” he said.

New restrictions in La Rioja and Aragón

The premier of La Rioja, Concha Andreu, announced on Wednesday that the entire region will be placed under a perimetral lockdown in a bid to curb coronavirus contagion rates. Starting Friday, movement in and out of the region will be restricted for 15 days until Saturday, November 7.

In addition to the restrictions on movement, all commercial establishments will have to close by 9pm, with the exception of pharmacies, supermarkets and restaurants that offer home delivery. As of Wednesday, 133 coronavirus patients had been admitted into the region’s hospitals, a rise of 22 from the day before, while the number of active cases stands at 1,297.

The Aragón government announced on Wednesday that the region’s three provincial capitals – Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel – will also be placed under a perimetral lockdown after the cities reported a rising number of coronavirus cases. The measure will come into effect on Thursday and last for a maximum of 30 days, although its extension will be reviewed “weekly,” said regional health chief Sira Repollles.

“We have had a terrible summer and we have always said that we would not hesitate when the time arrived to introduce measures,” she said.

From Monday, the entire region will also move to stage 3 of the regional government’s alert system. Under this stage, capacity is reduced to 25% in indoor establishments and to 50% sidewalk cafes, consumption indoors is prohibited, the hostelry sector must close by 10pm and social gatherings are limited to six people.

On Wednesday, Aragón reported 900 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

With reporting by Manuel Viejo and Patricia Peiró.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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