The political battle being waged by the Madrid government over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic has descended into a stubborn resistance to apply guidelines emanating from a meeting of central and regional health officials held on Wednesday. At this meeting, it was agreed to implement perimetral confinement measures, mobility restrictions, reduced business hours and capacity limits in cities with populations of over 100,000 that meet three criteria: a 14-day incidence of over 500 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, over 10% of PCR tests coming back positive, and over 35% of intensive care units occupied by Covid-19 patients.
These are reasonable criteria that are applicable across Spain, but Madrid has chosen to turn them into yet another cause for confrontation. After an initial response suggesting open revolt, regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the Popular Party (PP) said that she would observe the guidelines but challenge them in the courts, displaying an obstructionist attitude. In an emergency situation, to place hurdles in the fight against the pandemic is both irresponsible and reckless, and it flies in the face of both scientific consensus and ethical principles of good governance.
Tougher restrictions have been introduced in other parts of Spain and Europe with more favorable epidemiological data than Madrid. The fact that 10 Spanish cities that meet the latest criteria are located in the Madrid region is not a reflection of political persecution, but rather of the dismal way in which regional authorities have handled the situation, which they did not address with enough decisiveness.
Considering how difficult it became to manage such a dangerous situation through cooperation, it became imperative to adopt more general criteria for action, and if the government of Pedro Sánchez is to be chided for anything, it is for not having acted sooner. And also for not having prepared the deescalation process more carefully in view of the backdrop of political confrontation.
Díaz Ayuso first tried to blame the Sánchez administration for the new outbreaks, voicing accusations that Madrid was being left to its own devices; now that the central government is taking the initiative, she describes it as meddling. It is extravagant to say the least that in the European region that is worst hit by the pandemic, the regional executive is devoting its energy to a legal battle that is wearing down the institutions.
The region’s own deputy premier, Ignacio Aguado of Ciudadanos (Citizens), has asked to reduce the confrontation and improve institutional cooperation, in contrast with Díaz Ayuso, who is taking the political tug-of-war too far: further than other regions governed by the PP where leaders have not challenged the new measures in court, and even further than Catalonia did back when its government also used the pandemic as part of its strategy of confrontation with the Spanish state. Yet when the situation got worse, the Catalan government opted for a rational course of action that involved drastic measures.
During this second wave, authorities are no longer making decisions in a vacuum: there is now experience and scientific consensus to fall back on. It is surprising to see how the Madrid government is putting partisan priorities ahead of public health guidelines based on broad scientific consensus. Failure to apply these measures means giving the virus new opportunities for transmission, which means more infections, more hospital admissions and more deaths. Resorting to the courts to “defend the legitimate interests of Madrileños” is fallacious if what’s at stake is the application of measures to protect the health of citizens.
English version by Susana Urra.