The Catalan regional government announced on Wednesday new restrictions on mobility in a bid to contain a sharp rise in coronavirus cases due to increased social activity over Easter. From Friday, the region’s comarcas – traditional administrative areas in parts of Spain – will be placed under a perimetral lockdown, meaning no one is allowed to enter or leave without a justified reason, such as to go to work or to visit a doctor. The measure will be in place until at least April 19, when it will either be lifted or maintained based on the epidemiological situation at the time.
“The data will be constantly reviewed to try to adjust the restrictions,” said Alba Vergés, the regional health chief, at a press conference on Wednesday. “We have been advancing and postponing measures for weeks, but now we have taken action to stop the rise.”
The decision was made by the Procicat, the Catalan government agency coordinating action against the pandemic, in response to a sustained rise in hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions for Covid-19 recorded in the past few days. The situation has raised alarm bells amid what is already being called the beginning of a fourth wave.
We have to take a step back because the ICUs are quickly filling up. If two weeks ago there were 390 Covid-19 patients in ICUs, today there were 458Josep Maria Argimon, general secretary for public health
The message from the Catalan government was unequivocal: the mounting pressure on hospitals means restrictions on mobility are needed. For the past three weeks, residents in Catalonia could travel across the region as long as they were with members of the same household. All regions in Spain, with the exception of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, are still subject to a perimetral lockdown as part of the restrictions aimed at curbing contagions over the Easter break.
“We have to take a step back because the ICUs are quickly filling up,” said Josep Maria Argimon, the general secretary for public health in Catalonia, at the press conference. “If two weeks ago there were 390 [Covid-19 patients in ICUs], today there were 458. It is a progression that also jars with the rise of other data and we don’t know exactly what is the cause.”
Admissions to normal hospital wards are also rising, with 1,712 patients recorded on Wednesday. Another data point that highlights the worsening situation is the positivity rate i.e. the percentage of tests that come back positive out of the total. On Wednesday, this indicator stood at 7.47% – above the 5% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is also on the rise. On Wednesday it was 240, up six points since Tuesday.
The new restrictions are expected to negatively impact Catalonia’s hospitality and cultural sectors, as residents who have made hotel reservations or booked events in a different comarca will not be able to attend. When asked about the economic blow to these industries, Vergés said that the regional government had aid programs, but did not specify what these were.
“It’s tough,” added Miquel Sàmper, the acting chief of internal affairs. “We are entering a fourth wave and we know that pandemic fatigue is growing. But now we have two positive factors: the speed of the vaccination drive and the seasonal effect.”
Sàmper added that if tougher measures were needed after May 9, when the state of alarm is set to expire, Catalonia was prepared to make its own decisions. The emergency situation was voted through in the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, back in October, with the aim of allowing the country’s regional governments to introduce coronavirus restrictions without facing legal challenges in the courts. Once it expires, the regions will have fewer powers to introduce restrictions on fundamental rights, such as the nighttime curfew.
The Procicat has not yet made a decision regarding Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau’s request for the metropolitan area of Barcelona to be placed under a perimetral lockdown – not the wider comarca – in order to prevent crowding in the beaches of the center of Barcelona and in Collserola.
Restrictions on hospitality sector
Bars and restaurants in Catalonia have not been allowed to open for dinner for nearly six months – with the exception of three weeks between November and December. But according to Roger Pallarols, the head of the hospitality guild in Barcelona, most contagions happen in private social gatherings, not from going out for dinner at a restaurant. With the state of alarm and nighttime curfew set to expire, Pallarols has called on the regional government not to “devise anything to restrict our activity.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.