coronavirus

Spain’s regions agree to restrict travel over Easter week, but Madrid rejects measure

The deal involves a perimetral lockdown of territories from March 26 to April 9, and from March 17 to 21 in areas where March 19 is a holiday for father’s day

Health Minister Carolina Darias and serving Minister of Territorial Policy and Civil Service Miquel Iceta on Wednesday.
Health Minister Carolina Darias and serving Minister of Territorial Policy and Civil Service Miquel Iceta on Wednesday.Borja Puig de la Bellacasa / Pool Moncloa/ EFE

Spain’s Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS), which brings together the country’s regional healthcare chiefs and the central Health Ministry, on Wednesday agreed to restrict travel over the upcoming Easter break and the San José long weekend. All territories will be subject to perimetral lockdowns, according to the decision, apart from the Canary and Balearic islands.

The agreement, which is aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, was approved by all of the country’s 17 regions apart from Madrid. Despite the opposition of the territory, which has been at loggerheads with the central government over the reach of coronavirus restrictions since the health crisis began, the lockdowns will be “mandatory,” according to Health Minister Carolina Darias, and will be published in the government’s Official State Bulletin (BOE).

Madrid will not be closing its borders. We will take the measures that we believe to be appropriate
Regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero

However, a Madrid official stated on Wednesday evening that it would not comply with the restrictions. “Madrid will not be closing its borders,” said the regional health chief, Enrique Ruiz Escudero. “We will take the measures that we believe to be appropriate.”

The CISNS yesterday approved a document that had been presented by the Health Ministry the day before. The text includes the perimetral lockdown of regions from March 26 to April 9, and from March 17 to 21 in areas where March 19 is a holiday for father’s day, or San José.

The restrictions also establish a nighttime curfew from 11pm to 6am, although regions will be free to bring the start time forward to 10pm if they wish. As for the number of people who are allowed to meet, this will be limited to four in closed public spaces and six in open spaces, unless the people in question live together. In private spaces, only members of the same household can meet.

Police monitor cars leaving Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
Police monitor cars leaving Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Álvaro Ballesteros / Europa Press

The document also recommends avoiding events with crowds of “any type,” and advises the regions not to relax any of their coronavirus restrictions in the two weeks before Easter week – i.e. from March 12 onward – even if their epidemiological situation improves.

Although the Canary and Balearic islands will not be under a perimetral lockdown, tourists will not be allowed to enter the archipelagos. Travel to these regions will only be permitted for the reasons included under the ongoing state of alarm. These include returning to one’s regular place of residence, for medical tests, work, care of adults with disabilities or to take exams. Negative coronavirus tests are required for such journeys. “We want to make clear that you cannot go to the islands for tourism,” Darias explained on Wednesday.

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These restrictions do not, however, mean that foreign visitors cannot travel to Spain. International traffic will continue over Easter, with travelers subject to the restrictions put in place from country to country. For example, a negative PCR test for arrivals from places considered risk countries by the Spanish authorities, and only Spanish nationals and people with official residency in Spain in the case of the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil due to the more-infectious variants of the coronavirus that have been detected in those countries. That said, international travelers will not be able to leave the region in which they arrive due to the restrictions.

Madrid’s objections

The opposition from the Madrid regional government to the perimetral lockdown raises a series of questions as to what will actually happen in practice. The current state of alarm that was put in place by the central government, with the aim of allowing the regions to restrict the movement of citizens without being challenged in the courts, means that it is the administration of each territory that is in charge of closing its borders. “This cannot be imposed by the CISNS,” explains Alberto López Basaguren, a constitutional law professor from the Basque Country University. But if all of the rest of the regions are closed, Madrileños will essentially have nowhere to go anyway, apart from the Canaries and the Balearics – but entry to those islands is restricted according to the aforementioned rules.

‘Reasonable’ measures

According to Fernando Rodríguez-Artalejo, a public health professor at Madrid’s Autonomous University, the measures taken by the CISNS are “reasonable.” “The percentage of people vaccinated is very low, the fall in the infection rates is slowing down, there are many patients still in intensive care units, and the situation in nearby European countries is getting a lot worse,” he argues.

Pedro Gullón, from the Spanish Epidemiological Society, agrees, pointing out that in practice, stopping the spread of the coronavirus depends on citizens, given that it is practically impossible to monitor all journeys. In his opinion, the attempts to avoid “excessive movement” at a time when infection rates differ greatly between regions is logical, but he believes it would also be sensible to allow some journeys that are not for vacations. “People are very tired,” he says. “There are people who are very lonely and perhaps mobility for the sake of care could have been considered.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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