Catalan High Court approves curfew and limits on social gatherings

Spanish region of Murcia announces the closure of all non-essential activity between 1am and 6am, while other areas of Spain are extending use of Covid pass

Toque de queda Cataluña
People lining up for a PCR or antigen test in Catalonia.Albert Garcia (EL PAÍS)

The Catalan regional government on Thursday received court authorization to introduce a series of measures aimed at curbing the sixth wave of the coronavirus, which is taking a heavy toll on the Spanish region’s healthcare system.

Starting Friday, a nighttime curfew between 12am and 6am will be introduced in all municipalities with a population of more than 10,000 where the 14-day incidence rate exceeds 250 cases per 100,000. A total of 126 municipalities will be affected by the measure.

Social gatherings will also be limited to 10 people, while capacity at religious, sporting and cultural events will be cut to 70%. The Catalan High Court also approved the continued use of the European Union’s Digital COVID certificate, or so-called Covid pass, in bars, restaurants and gyms. These measures will be in place for two weeks.

Other restrictions that did not require court authorization will also come into effect at 12am on Friday: the closure of all nighttime venues and a 50% cut to capacity in restaurants.

The court approved the restrictions despite the opposition of the public prosecution, which argued the curfew and limits on social gatherings were “severe, extreme, very restrictive, intense and generalized.” In its report to the Catalan High Court, the prosecution argued the restrictions hindered fundamental rights, such as freedom of movement, and were not the best tools to reduce contagions.

The court decision comes as Catalonia tries to control a surge in new coronavirus infections, which on Thursday hit a record daily high of 13,000. The 14-day incidence rate now stands at 845 cases per 100,000, compared to the national average of 784.

Coronavirus cases are rising across Spain, but Catalonia is the first region to introduce strict restrictions. Following a meeting with the regions – which are responsible for their healthcare systems, Covid-19 vaccination drives and coronavirus restrictions – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a return to outdoor masking starting Friday, but no further measures. Experts say this will not be enough to contain the sixth wave in the country, which reported more than 60,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday – a figure that has not been seen since the authorities began to collate trustworthy data.

Murcia closes non-essential activity

In the southeastern region of Murcia, which is now at alert level three on a scale of four, health officials announced that all non-essential activity must shut down between 1am and 6am starting on December 24 and extending until January 14. Nightclub dance floors will be off limits entirely, even during opening hours.

The number of diners allowed at restaurant tables will also be capped at 10 indoors and 12 outdoors. As for entertainment venues such as movie theaters, attendance will be reduced to 50% of capacity.

Other regions

In Asturias, the regional high court has authorized the use of the Covid pass for one month at food and drink venues, senior homes, care centers and gyms. The measure will go into effect next week, said acting premier Juan Cofiño, who had pledged not to introduce any additional measures on December 24, 25 and 26.

In the Balearic Islands, the government wants to extend the use of the Covid pass to all food and drink establishments regardless of their size, and to all cultural venues. The move, which would be in effect until January 24, will have to first be authorized by the regional high court. For now, the document is only necessary in bars and restaurants that can seat over 50 people.

In the Valencia region, the vaccination of children between the ages of five and eight will resume when they go back to school in January because the second shipment of doses will not arrive until next week, said regional premier Ximo Puig. Children in this region are being inoculated at schools, where the campaign began with kids ages nine through 11. Regional officials also said that educators who received the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this year will be eligible for a booster shot before January 10, and that the over-60 population will receive it before December 31.

Outdoor masking decree

The Spanish Cabinet on Thursday approved a decree introducing new measures against the coronavirus, including a new outdoor masking mandate for everyone over the age of six. The move had been announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday afternoon following a meeting with Spain’s regional leaders.

“I want to state that this will be a temporary measure, only for as long as necessary until the epidemiological situation we find ourselves in improves,” said Health Minister Carolina Darias, speaking at a news conference after the Cabinet meeting.

Health experts have questioned the usefulness of wearing masks outdoors, but Darias said the measure will help reduce community transmission, “given masks’ ability to block emission and reception of aerosols, as many studies have accredited.”

The decree will also allow regional governments to hire retired health workers next year to shore up the struggling public healthcare system. There will additionally be 150 military vaccination teams ready to be deployed wherever necessary.

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