CORONAVIRUS

Spain’s regions divided on coronavirus Christmas restrictions

A meeting of central and regional health authorities ended with no consensus over the government’s draft plan to keep Covid-19 figures down during the holidays

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa presiding over a virtual meeting of health officials on Wednesday.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa presiding over a virtual meeting of health officials on Wednesday.Europa Press

With Christmas less than a month away, Spaniards still don’t know if they’ll be able to travel to see loved ones, or how many people may gather under one roof for holiday celebrations.

Central and regional health authorities discussed these issues on Wednesday during a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System, but failed to find a common position. Instead, working groups have been asked to keep making efforts to reach a consensus.

Some regions support tougher measures, mirroring the draft plan developed by the central government that limits gatherings to six people and sets a 1am-6am curfew on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. But others, like Madrid, are proposing more flexible rules for special days, such as a 10-person limit on gatherings and a slightly shorter curfew starting at 1.30am on December 24 and 31.

The government of Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), on Tuesday sent its draft plan to regional authorities, who may propose changes and who will have the final word on what happens within their own boundaries, central executive sources have confirmed.

Following the video conference with health officials on Wednesday, Health Minister Salvador Illa said there was a clear willingness to find common ground, although conditions may be adapted to the epidemiological situation in each region.

“The pandemic is not being equally intense across the territory. During Christmas we will maintain the same system: every [regional authority] will have to adopt restrictions based on their own region,” said Illa.

Spain is dealing with a second wave of the coronavirus, but the incidence rate has been falling in recent days, as well as the number of new infections, hospitalizations and admissions into intensive care units (ICUs).

The following are the proposals made so far by each regional government.

Andalusia

The government of Andalusia wants the country to agree on joint measures. It is also considering a protocol so that Andalusians living outside the region may come home for the holidays despite existing restrictions on mobility, which will remain in place until December 10 at least. The regional health department feels it is too early to establish measures for Christmas, and would rather wait to see how the situation evolves between now and mid-December.

Catalonia

The Catalan government has said in the past that it will develop its own Christmas plan regardless of what central authorities propose. Officials are thinking about more flexible rules on the most important days of the holiday season, but final decisions will depend on the evolution of the pandemic.

Madrid

The regional government is proposing to let up to 10 people come together on December 24, 25 and 31 and on January 1 and 6. It also wants to push the curfew forward to 1.30am on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, the current six-person limit would remain in place. Madrid authorities may also allow outings for residents of senior homes and centers for people with disabilities who have had a positive PCR test in the previous three months or who have been shown to have IgG antibodies in the last six months.

Valencia region

Regional officials have expressed support for the ministry’s measures and said they would like to see a nationwide agreement, but they are not ruling out other options depending on the evolution of the pandemic. Authorities will not make any decisions until after December 9, when the regional borders reopen again.

Galicia

Regional authorities would also like to see a common strategy adopted nationwide, but with leeway for specific measures depending on each region’s situation. Galicia officials are proposing special measures for people living alone, and suggest that children should not count toward the limit on family gatherings.

Castilla y León

Regional authorities support keeping their borders sealed during the Christmas season, and defend a ban on traditional New Year’s Eve street celebrations where crowds gather at public squares to watch the clock strike midnight. Officials also want this season’s Three Kings’ parade, a popular event held on January 5, to be followed on television instead. Company dinners will likely be limited to no more than six people.

Basque Country

Basque officials generally approve of the central government’s proposals, but add that children should count toward the six-person limit on family gatherings. They also oppose holding parades and other crowded events, including the popular San Silvestre road race held on December 31.

Canary Islands

There is no curfew in place in the Canary Islands, and the measure is not being contemplated for the holiday season. Sources at the regional health department said that other measures would not be any less restrictive than those set out in the national draft plan, but more details are expected to emerge later on Thursday.

Castilla-La Mancha

Regional authorities broadly agree with the Health Ministry’s proposals and would like to see similar measures adopted across the country.

Murcia

If the downward trend in coronavirus figures experienced in the last two weeks continues, the regional government will consider relaxing some of the measures. This could mean allowing larger groups to get together, reducing the curfew hours and lifting border closures at the local and regional level.

Aragón

This region has not officially commented on the central government’s draft plan, or said what measures it is contemplating.

Balearic Islands

Sources in the regional government said that they agree with the ministry’s draft plan, and added that they do not support allowing meetings of more than six people at a time.

Extremadura

The regional health department has criticized the fact that the draft plan was leaked to the media, saying that the document is still at an early stage. Authorities said they would rather not take a stand until more solid proposals are made, in order to avoid creating further uncertainty among the population.

Asturias

The regional premier said it is too early to establish special measures for Christmas, and the Asturias health department has not made any official statement regarding the ministry’s plan.

La Rioja

Health officials have yet to make a statement about the draft plan.

Navarre

The region is proposing meetings of between six and 10 people from two households. On the nights of December 24 and 31, the curfew should start no later than 1am.

Cantabria

Public Health director Paloma Navas said on Thursday morning that the region supports “contained” Christmas celebrations.

English version by Susana Urra.

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