CORONAVIRUS

Valencia drastically restricts social contacts to curb coronavirus surge

New measures are also going into effect in Galicia, Madrid, Murcia, Andalusia and the Basque Country

Valencian regional premier Ximo Puig has announced new measures to further restrict social contacts.
Valencian regional premier Ximo Puig has announced new measures to further restrict social contacts.Mònica Torrs / EL PAÍS

The relentless advance of the coronavirus in Spain is leading some regional governments to introduce even more severe restrictions on mobility. Madrid, the Basque Country and the Valencia region have all announced new measures that went into effect on Monday.

Valencia

On Sunday, Valencian authorities announced new measures to restrict social contacts in a region with the country’s third-highest coronavirus incidence rate – 1,245 cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days – and where 59% of intensive care beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Starting on Monday, there is a two-person limit on public gatherings of members of different households. Larger meetings in public spaces are only allowed if everyone is part of the same living unit.

In the private sphere, members of different households may no longer meet inside homes. This means that no social visits of any kind are allowed. Exceptions will be made in both public and private settings for work meetings, educational activities and caregiving for vulnerable people such as children, seniors or adults with need for daily assistance.

Additionally, cities with populations of over 50,000 will be under perimetral lockdown on weekends and public holidays. This affects the following municipalities: Valencia, Alicante, Elche, Castellón, Torrevieja, Torrent, Orihuela, Gandia, Paterna, Benidorm, Sagunt, Alcoi, Sant Vicent del Raspeig, Elda-Petrer and Vila-real. The city limits will be sealed from 3pm on Fridays to 6am on Mondays.

These new measures, as well as existing ones such as the complete closure of food and drink establishments, will be extended until February 15 at least. Regional borders will also remain sealed until that date.

Regional premier Ximo Puig said that these measures are being taken “after the worst week for the Comunitat Valenciana since the beginning of the pandemic. Today we are going one step further, we are taking a decisive step in restrictions that also apply to the private sphere, and we are doing so to reduce social contacts as much as possible, both in public spaces and inside the homes, which is where the great hub of contagion is.”

Galicia

On Monday afternoon, Galicia officials announced similar measures for the northwestern region. All municipalities are being sealed, food and drink establishments are closing down except for takeout and home deliveries, and non-essential retail stores must close by 6m. Additionally, people from different households are not allowed to meet. The restrictions go into effect on Wednesday and will be in place for the next three weeks at least.

Regional premier Alberto Núñez-Feijóo has also asked people to “self-confine” by 8pm each day, even though the official starting time of the overnight curfew is 10pm. Several regional leaders last week asked the central government for permission to introduce earlier curfews, but the request was denied on the grounds that it is not allowed under the current state of alarm, approved by Spanish parliament in October to provide a legal framework for coronavirus measures.

On Monday, Núñez-Feijoó insisted on the need for an earlier curfew, calling the request “a clamor by the vast majority of regional governments, regardless of their political persuasion. It is not a whim, it is a necessary health decision.”

Andalusia

In Andalusia, every city with a population of over 100,000 will now be under a perimetral lockdown starting on Wednesday, after Seville registered a 14-day incidence rate of over 500, the threshold established by the regional government. In locations with an incidence of over 1,000, there is an additional restriction: all non-essential businesses must close their doors. New additions to this list include Almería, Marbella, Estepona and Jerez de la Frontera, among others.

Andalusia’s deputy premier, Juan Marín, on Monday said that the government is not ruling out more restrictive measures due to the continuing increase in coronavirus cases.

Madrid

In Madrid, deputy public health chief Antonio Zapatero announced more perimetral lockdowns, now affecting 56 basic health zones and 25 municipalities that are home to 24% of the region’s residents but account for 30% of all coronavirus cases.

The director general of the Public Health agency, Elena Andradas, said that nine basic health zones – administrative areas that do not necessarily coincide with neighborhoods or districts – and six municipalities have a 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants above 1,000 and will be subject “to special restrictions on mobility.” The decision expands on the list of health zones and municipalities that came under mobility restrictions last week.

The new affected municipalities are Cercedilla, Navacerrada, Collado Villalba, Rivas-Vaciamadrid, Los Molinos, Quijorna, Serranillos del Valle and Colmenar de Oreja. The new affected health zones are Las Ciudades, in Getafe; as well as La Rivota, Ramón y Cajal, Doctor Trueta and Pedro Laín Entralgo, in Alcorcón.

Additionally, the overnight curfew will begin at 10pm and businesses must close by 9pm, including food and drink establishments.

Authorities are also banning meetings inside homes with members of other households, while the upper limit on the number of people from different households who may gather outside the home in food or drink establishments is now four, down from six.

But there are exceptions to the ban on visiting other households. People who live by themselves may receive visits from another individual “to check on them, or to provide assistance and company,” said a spokesperson for the Madrid health department. A person living alone can form a support bubble with one other household and go visit its members, but it must always be the same household.

These measures went into effect on Monday and will last at least two weeks.

Basque Country

Authorities in the Basque Country said they will seal off all of the region’s 252 municipalities beginning on Monday. Social gatherings will be reduced to four people.

The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the region was above 500 cases on Friday, twice the figure considered an extreme risk scenario (which also takes into account other variables such as pressure on hospitals). Right now over 70% of Spain’s territory is in the extreme risk category.

The Basque city of Bilbao and 50 other locations came under a perimetral lockdown in the early hours of Friday because of their high incidence rate. Starting on Monday, every other city, town and village in this region of 2.2 million people is sealed off as well. Only essential trips that can be justified will be allowed across municipal lines. This is on top of the provincial and regional lockdowns that are already in effect.

The Basque health chief, Gotzone Sagardui, said the decision was a response to the worsening epidemiological figures. “This is not the time to relax, but to act with utmost anticipation on preventive action,” she said.

The curfew starting time has not been altered, despite the Basque government’s wishes to bring it forward to 8pm from the current 10pm. The move was debated on Wednesday at a meeting of central and regional health officials but did not gain support from the central government.

Food and drink establishments must close at 8pm except in locations with an incidence rate of over 500, where they must close altogether. This is currently the case in Bilbao.

The measures will be in effect for 20 days, subject to review.

A home confinement cannot be legally imposed in Spain under the current emergency state approved by parliament in late October and due to expire in May. But the string of increasingly strict restrictions imposed by regional governments is coming close to a de facto lockdown.

Murcia

Murcia is also limiting meetings of people from different households, now capped at two people. And in eight municipalities with a 14-day incidence rate of over 2,000 per 100,000, non-essential businesses must close their doors by 6pm. The affected locations are Yecla, Moratalla, Albudeite, Mula, Fortuna, Caravaca, Ricote and Jumilla.

English version by Susana Urra.

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