Catalonia announces more flexible coronavirus deescalation measures

Bars and restaurants will be allowed to close later than initially planned following industry criticism and an internal government crisis

Catalonia's acting premier Pere Aragonès at a news conference on Thursday.
Catalonia's acting premier Pere Aragonès at a news conference on Thursday.EP

Bars and restaurants in Catalonia will reopen on Monday and they will be allowed to keep longer operating hours than initially planned.

After a draft plan seen earlier this week suggested that food and drink establishments would have to close at 5pm, the Catalan government said on Thursday that closing time is being pushed to 9.30pm.

The change follows a barrage of criticism from industry leaders and seeks to end internal disagreement between the governing coalition members, Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

The former had been pressing for more flexible conditions for struggling restaurateurs after more than a month of forced closures, while the latter had been arguing for tighter measures based on epidemiological data.

These indicators show that Catalonia registered 2,501 new single-day coronavirus cases, as well as 50 deaths, according to data provided on Thursday by the regional health department. The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients fell by over 100.

Also on Monday, cultural activities will resume at reduced capacity in cinemas, theaters and auditoriums. The sector had been clamoring for such a move, and the prolonged closures had created significant friction between the coalition partners.

Show of unity

An empty cafeteria in Barcelona on November 16.
An empty cafeteria in Barcelona on November 16. David Zorrakino (Europa Press)

The acting premier of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, and government spokesperson Meritxell Budó gave a joint news conference on Thursday in an attempt to end the latest internal government crisis over the management of the pandemic. Only 24 hours earlier, the cabinet members from ERC had walked out of a meeting of the crisis committee.

The rules unveiled on Thursday were in some cases more flexible than those included in a draft that was leaked earlier this week. With less than three months to go before Catalans vote in regional elections, both parties are accusing each other of leaking the draft to the media.

Aragonès, of ERC, said that the restrictions imposed in recent weeks were necessary in order to preserve public health, and admitted that some of the measures had sparked controversy.

He added that the new guidelines do not represent a deescalation plan for the second wave of the coronavirus, but a gradual, four-phase series of actions spread out over the next two months.

New rules

Under the new rules, outdoor seating areas at bars and restaurants will have no limit on attendance, while indoor capacity will be capped at 30%. This upper limit will be raised to 50% on December 7.

Gyms and indoor sports facilities will also reopen on Monday at 30% of capacity, which is raised to 50% for outdoor ones. Stores over 800 square meters in size, which are now closed, will be allowed to reopen at 30% of capacity.

Private social gatherings during the first phase remain limited to six people, and the 10pm curfew is unchanged. Catalonia’s regional borders are still sealed.

On December 7, if epidemiological figures allow it, a new phase will go into effect. The weekend ban on travel outside one’s city limits will be lifted and replaced with a broader limit based on the larger comarcas, among other measures. Phase 3 is expected to begin on December 21, when weekend travel will be allowed throughout Catalonia and social gatherings will be expanded to 10 people, although the curfew will remain in place. The last phase is planned for January 4.

English version by Susana Urra.

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