CORONAVIRUS

Andalusia confines its municipalities and suspends all non-essential business activity from 6pm

The measures, aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic, will come into effect on Tuesday and last until November 23

A waiter in a bar in Seville on Sunday.
A waiter in a bar in Seville on Sunday.PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS

The 8.4 million inhabitants of Spain’s Andalusia region will be confined to their municipalities from Tuesday, November 10 until November 23, as the regional government toughens its coronavirus restrictions. The hospitality sector and all non-essential activity will have to close at 6pm, apart from in the province of Granada, where the high rates of infection – currently at 1,194 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days – have prompted the authorities to implement a total shutdown. The nighttime curfew will be brought forward to 10pm and will last until 7am.

Growing pressure on the region’s hospitals due to coronavirus cases has prompted the Andalusian government to take this action, which also includes obligatory online classes for university students. The plan was announced on Sunday by the regional premier, Juan Manuel Romero of the conservative Popular Party (PP), who explained that over this week a plan will be approved that will help to compensate the losses from the hostelry and retail sector, but did not go into detail about the assistance.

For the last 11 days, half of Andalusia – 450 municipalities from a total of 785, and which are home to 4.3 million people – has been confined. The Andalusian government also divided up the region into levels of risk according to the level of incidence of the virus, where restrictions vary above all else with regard to the capacity of bars, ceremonies, funerals and sporting activities. Until now there were three phases: 4, 3 and 2. Moreno announced on Sunday that the entire region is now at level 4, apart from a hundred or so municipalities that are at three. Members of the public can use the webpage mapacovid.es to check which phase each area is in.

In the first week of November, the incidence rate of the coronavirus in Andalusia rose 22%, compared to an average across Spain of 8%

The Andalusian premier said on Sunday that he was not willing to confine residents to their homes, but he did call on the central government to “prepare for the possibility of a total or partial confinement in the coming weeks.” The politician said he was keen to wait to see if the measures currently in place have an effect before opting for the strictest confinement, and continue seeking a balance between health and the economy. “Controlling the pandemic is like a tap,” he often states, explaining that if you open it there is greater mobility, more infections and more economic activity and if you close it, the opposite happens. This Sunday he decided to close it a little more.

Hostelry is one of the biggest sectors in the region, accounting for nearly 6% of GDP. The decision to focus the majority of the restrictions in this area has not been well received by the sector. “It makes no sense to call for economic sectors to make sacrifices if they are not then accompanied by support measures,” warned the president of the regional CEA business association on Saturday, in comments to news agency EFE. Conscious of this discontent, the regional premier announced a rescue plan that would include “soft loans and direct assistance and tax exemptions,” although he did not specify the amounts involved or their duration. The regional government has also called on local councils, provincial authorities and the central government to offer their assistance. This week the regional government will be meeting with representatives from the affected sectors in order to finalize the assistance.

The 11 days of restrictions already in place have already claimed their first economic victims. The emblematic Alfonso XIII hotel in Seville has announced its temporary closure. In the Seville province, bringing closing time forward to 6pm could mean the end for many businesses that survived the total lockdown over spring.

“During the state of alarm, 500 establishments closed and another 1,500 have been ailing,” explained Antonio Luque, the president of a hostelry association in the Seville province. “But bringing closing time forward to 10.30pm has meant that many have had to bring down the shutters.” Luque added that he didn’t understand why the sector has been demonized. “In Catalonia, the bars have been closed for more than 20 days and the curve has not been flattened,” he argued.

All of the measures that will be adopted are going to be insufficient. Other countries have taken more drastic measures with fewer cases
Jesús Rodríguez Baño, from Virgen Macarena hospital

Andalusia was one of the Spanish regions that was least affected during the first wave of the pandemic and also took the longest to suffer the consequences of the second. On October 16, the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants was 227, below the Spanish average of 280. The regional government has argued that it has been ahead of the pandemic, but in recent weeks the number of infections has gotten out of control.

In the first week of November, the incidence rose 22%, compared to an average across Spain of 8%. There has also been an increase in hospital admissions, exceeding the spike that was seen in the lockdown in the spring. Normal hospital bed occupation is currently at 3,151 compared to 2,708 on March 30, while there are 455 intensive care unit (ICU) patients compared to 438 on March 31. In the first week of November, a total of 315 people with Covid-19 died in the Andalusia region.

If the new restrictions do not reduce infections, Moreno will have little room for maneuver left, apart from calling for a full lockdown like that of spring, a measure that other experts are already demanding in order to alleviate the pressure on hospitals. “All of the measures that will be adopted are going to be insufficient,” said Jesús Rodríguez Baño, the head of the infectious diseases service at the Virgen Macarena hospital in Seville. “Other countries have taken more drastic measures with fewer cases. We’re in a problematic situation to attend to all kinds of patients, not just those with Covid, and we have arrived late with the measures throughout Spain. They’ve said that we have been strengthened in the summer but that’s not been the case, there’s been a lack of capacity for screening, tracking and tracing…,” the epidemiologist warned.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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