CORONAVIRUS

Spain’s central, regional officials clash over coronavirus curfew times

Legal battle with Castilla y León illustrates growing rift over need for stricter measures such as a full home confinement

Police officers enforcing new curfew rules in Salamanca.
Police officers enforcing new curfew rules in Salamanca.JMGARCIA / EFE

Spain’s central government will appeal a decision by regional authorities in Castilla y León to impose an 8pm curfew in their territory in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The regional government announced the new starting time on Friday, but central authorities say that the curfew may begin at 10pm at the earliest, based on the terms of the state of alarm approved by parliament in late October and due to expire in May. This legal framework underpins the restrictions used to contain the coronavirus, including limits on freedom of movement.

The executive, led by a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos, has asked the Solicitor General’s Office to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, said the government in a statement on Sunday. The reasoning is that an 8pm curfew represents “a restriction of a fundamental right that is not covered” by the emergency state currently in force across Spain.

The premier of Castilla y León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco of the conservative Popular Party (PP), said he laments “that with its appeal, the government of Spain is trying to hinder the actions of the government of Castilla y León, whose only goal is to protect people’s lives and health and to reduce damage to the economy as much as possible.” Fernández Mañueco added that the new curfew will remain in place until the Supreme Court says otherwise.

On Monday, Territorial Policy Minister Carolina Darias urged the regional leader to “comply with the law” and to bring up the subject for debate at a meeting of central and regional health officials scheduled for Wednesday. Meanwhile, the region of Castilla-La Mancha has also shown support for an earlier curfew, while on Friday the Basque Country said it would like to start its own curfew anywhere between 6pm and 8pm. Health Minister Salvador Illa said he is open to modifying the current curfew times if an agreement can be reached with regional governments.

Home confinement

This latest fallout illustrates how Spain’s central and regional authorities are increasingly at odds over how to contain the third wave of the coronavirus, which is causing record case numbers and stretching some hospitals to the limit. On Friday, health authorities reported a new high of 40,197 diagnosed cases, while the 14-day cumulative incidence was 575 cases per 100,000 people, the highest number since the pandemic began.

A growing number of regions are now asking for a mechanism to allow another home lockdown similar to the one that citizens experienced between mid-March and mid-June last year. Castilla y León, Murcia and Andalusia, which are under PP administrations, and Asturias, which is governed by the PSOE, have all asked central authorities to prepare a legal tool so that stay-at-home orders can be issued quickly if necessary. Andalusia on Friday asked the central government for permission to order home confinement in municipalities with very high case numbers, and to introduce an 8pm curfew.

“The government of Spain must take the helm against the third wave. It should not ask the opposition to do the groundwork to address it,” said Cuca Gamarra, the parliamentary spokesperson for the PP.

But the central government says that regional officials already have all the tools they need to contain the virus. The state of alarm approved in October places responsibility for containment in the hands of regional governments, in contrast to the first emergency state approved in March, which left major decisions up to central authorities.

They already have the legal tools to flatten the curve, equivalent to what other countries called confinement, such as Portugal
Health Minister Salvador Illa

“The state of alarm has worked because it gives regions the tools to restrict mobility in their territories through sealed borders and restrictions on nighttime mobility and on social gatherings,” said Illa in an interview with EL PAÍS on Sunday. “Each region can decide whether to close retail and entertainment sectors. They already have the legal tools to flatten the curve, equivalent to what other countries called confinement, such as Portugal. It’s a similar situation in Germany.”

A home lockdown would require congressional approval for a whole new state of alarm. Under the current rules, the only nationally mandated measure is the curfew and regions have latitude to introduce the restrictions they see fit, such as sealing municipal, provincial and regional borders. But stay-at-home orders are not permitted.

Catalonia and the Basque Country, for now, have not shown support for a full lockdown. Officials in Galicia and La Rioja have urged citizens to self-confine.

With reporting by Elsa García de Blas, José Marcos, Maribel Marín Yarza, Oriol Guëll and Jessica Mouzo.

English version by Susana Urra.

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