The Catalan regional government on Tuesday decided to close indoor nightlife venues from Friday onward in a bid to slow the surge in coronavirus cases being registered there, particularly among young people.
“We need to take measures and we must put the brakes on social interaction,” explained the government spokesperson, Patrícia Plaja. The authorities in the northeastern Spanish territory are also calling on the central government in Madrid to make the use of masks outdoors obligatory once more – the measure was lifted several weeks ago, provided that social distancing can be observed.
The new measures covering nightlife will be in place for 15 days, and are aimed at easing the pressure on primary healthcare centers, which are being overwhelmed given the rise in new cases, as well as limiting the increase in hospital patients – new admissions in Catalonia have risen 33% in the last 10 days.
Catalonia will permit activity in nightclubs that have outdoor areas, as well as music festivals, but these must close at 3am. The new rules will also require a negative coronavirus test or a full vaccination certificate for anyone wanting to attend an event with more than 500 people.
“There has been a general relaxation [among the public] and it appears as if the pandemic is over in certain spaces,” Plaja complained. “The relaxation has increased in spaces with a lot of people.”
The nightlife sector, meanwhile, is unhappy about the decision. “We are outraged,” said Joaquim Boadas, the president of the sector’s association, Fecasarm. “They had the opportunity of using the sector as a strategic ally if there was testing on entry, and that would have meant a mass screening for young people, most of whom aren’t vaccinated,” he continued. “Instead, they took a wrong decision, which was to sacrifice the legal sector, and which will lead to more illegal nightlife spots and a rise in infections, because there are no health or safety measures in those spaces.”
The regional government believes that by limiting regulated nightlife, social interaction between young people will fall. On June 21, when the sector reopened its doors (albeit at 50% capacity), the cumulative incidence of new cases over 14 days among people aged 15 to 29 was 160. That figure has now multiplied by nearly 10 and is at 1,450 in Catalonia. Despite the fact that positive cases among the older generation are not growing at the same rate, the cumulative incidence of the 30-49 group is now at 330. “It is the [regional] government’s responsibility to take decisions,” Plaja stated.
In the last seven days, 25,738 cases have been detected in Catalonia, five times up on a week ago and eight times more than 15 days ago, with an average age of the infected standing at 26.5 years. The R number in Catalonia is currently 3.30, meaning that one person is infecting around three and cases are tripling every day.
Experts have attributed this explosive rise in infections among young people to the new delta variant, which is more infectious. Also at play are the recent celebrations for Sant Joan (Feast of Saint John) on June 24, the end of the state of alarm – which has meant more mobility – the reopening of nightlife, and the relaxation of other restrictions.
The rise in infections in Catalonia is also affecting hospitals, despite the fact that the more at-risk collectives have mostly been vaccinated. According to the latest data, updated by the Catalan health department today, Tuesday, there are 575 people in hospital with Covid-19, up by 31, 133 of whom are in a serious condition in intensive care.
The Hospital del Mar in Barcelona has opened another Covid-19 ward after seeing the number of coronavirus patients triple over 10 days, from nine to 27, and with an average age of 42. That’s according to the head of infectious diseases at the hospital, Robert Güerri, who was speaking to state broadcaster RTVE.
Given the worsening situation across Spain, central government spokesperson María Jesús Montero called on Tuesday for young people to behave responsibly. “The government understands the anxiety of young people to interact after so many months of restrictions,” she said at a press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting. “But on the basis that there is so little to go, we are making a call for responsibility.”
Meanwhile, authorities in Castilla y León were on Tuesday planning on requesting that the central government reintroduce a nighttime curfew from 1am to 6am in order to restrict nightlife activities and thus limit new infections. If the request falls on deaf ears, the region is considering introducing the measure itself.
Madrid, meanwhile, has ruled out any new restrictions in the region and will instead focus on a campaign aimed at raising awareness of the virus among young people. Also on Tuesday, Madrid announced that anyone over 25 will be able to request an appointment for their first vaccine dose from Friday onward.
In Andalusia, the incidence rate over two weeks is now at 202 per 100,000 inhabitants, nearly 10 points up from Monday and having risen for the sixth day running. Málaga has seen most new cases, with 571.
The Defense Ministry is due to activate 90 new military tracers in the Balearic Islands, to join the 32 already operational there, given the rise in Covid-19 cases.
English version by Simon Hunter.