CORONAVIRUS

Nearly all of Spain’s regions set to close their borders ahead of long weekend

Only Extremadura, Galicia and the Canary Islands are not considering the measure for now, with Madrid opting to limit the perimetral confinements to the shortest time frame possible

A traffic stop in Irrueta, Bizkaia.
A traffic stop in Irrueta, Bizkaia.Miguel Toña / EFE

Eleven of Spain’s regions, as well as the North African cities of Ceuta and Melilla, have announced that they will be closing their borders ahead of the All Saints holiday on Monday, thus limiting the usual travel of some Spaniards across the country on such a long weekend. The move comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, with new cases having grown 71% in 15 days, according to the latest report from the Health Ministry, with the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants at 453, another record high during this second wave.

Asturias, Aragón, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Cantabria, the Basque Country, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre, La Rioja and Andalucia have all confirmed that they will be implementing a perimetral confinement, something that they can do under the state of alarm that was declared on Sunday by the central government and was being debated on Thursday in the Congress of Deputies. Catalonia and the Valencia region are also considering the same restrictions.

All Saints Day falls on Sunday November 1, but in Andalusia, Aragón, Asturias, Castilla y León, Madrid and Extremadura, the usual holiday has been moved to Monday.

Perimetral lockdowns don’t prevent cases from growing in a confined area if contacts are not reduced
Carlos Arenas, from the Economy and Health Foundation

The measure will mean that people will not be able to enter or leave the affected regions, apart from a series of permitted reasons such as going to work or seeking medical attention. Mobility will, however, still be permitted within these territories although there are other measures in place such as limits on social meetings and reduced capacity in establishments such as restaurants. Residents of the regions that will not be confined, Extremadura, Galicia and the Canary Islands, will be able to travel through those areas that locked down but not stop within them.

There was once again confusion last night over the route that Madrid would take, after the regional premier, Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the conservative Popular Party (PP), met with her counterparts from the neighboring regions of Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha. At a press conference, after the three leaders had agreed to confine their territories ahead of the long weekend, Ayuso – who has been fiercely opposed to the central government’s handling of the pandemic – declared that “people are sick of controversies,” before creating a new one. She suggested that rather than confining Madrileños until November 9, when the current state of alarm will end, she called on the government – a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) with junior partner Unidas Podemos – to implement it on a day-to-day basis, until the end of the long weekend on Tuesday. To do so, however, the current state of alarm would have to be modified given that it permits for such measures to last for the minimum of a week.

On Thursday, Díaz Ayuso announced that she “did not agree with the closure of Madrid, and that if I have to do so, given that I have no health study that says that this is the best thing to do, I want to do it for the lowest number of days possible.” She explained that she would implement the closure over this holiday weekend, and then do the same next week given there is another regional holiday on Monday, November 9. This means that Madrileños will not be able to leave the region on October 30, 31, November 1 and 2, and then next week, on November 7, 8 and 9.

Ayuso has sent a letter to the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, requesting that the government allow for a day-by-day confinement rather than the minimum of a week. However, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said in response on Thursday that the executive would not modify the state of alarm, and criticized Ayuso for creating “uncertainty” among members of the public about the measures, adding that she was not committed to fighting the pandemic, but was rather “playing politics.”

Other controversies

The original proposal by Ayuso was largely symbolic, given that the closure of neighboring Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha left her, and Madrid, semi-isolated. Previous controversies involving the Madrid regional government – a coalition of the PP and Ciudadanos (Citizens), propped up by far-right Vox – were seen at the end of September, when the administration waited until the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the territory was as high as 700 before taking action to combat the spread of the virus. The Health Ministry ended up stepping in to take action on the basis that the Madrid government’s confinement of dozens of basic healthcare areas did not go far enough. These measures, however, were struck down by the regional High Court, which then led the central government to declare a state of alarm just in Madrid in order to force Ayuso’s hand.

The PP in general has been very critical of the government’s actions since the pandemic hit Spain in March, criticizing a lack of freedom during the first wave related to the strict lockdown that was put in place and then decrying a lack of action during the second wave. But the severity of the situation has now tempered these positions. For example, Murcia, Andalusia and Castilla y León – all, like Madrid, governed by the PP and Ciudadanos – announced their perimetral lockdowns on Wednesday, in line with the state of alarm the government declared on Sunday. “We are going to take this very seriously,” said Andalusian premier Juan Manuel Moreno (PP) on Wednesday. “We will redouble our responsibilities.”

But the perimetral lockdowns have raised doubts. Until now, none of the measures that have been taken – closures, capacity restrictions, early closing – have been effective in this second wave. “They are measures that aim to avoid mobility between areas with the objective of reducing the transmission of the virus between areas that have a high incidence to others that are lower,” explains Carlos Arenas, from the Economy and Health Foundation. “But they don’t prevent cases from growing in a confined area if contacts are not reduced, meaning they are a highly controversial measure and their effectiveness is very limited.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

Errata

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Monday November 2 is a national holiday, whereas in fact it is only being celebrated in Andalusia, Aragón, Asturias, Castilla y León, Madrid and Extremadura.


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