Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso said on Monday that she will consider making waiters and other people who work directly with the public a priority group for coronavirus vaccination.
“We have analyzed the possibility of speeding up vaccination in highly exposed sectors such as teachers, taxi drivers, supermarket cashiers, waiters...” wrote the Popular Party (PP) leader on social media. “But the first priority is to obtain vaccines for the most vulnerable people.”
In theory, it is the Spanish Health Ministry, not regional governments, who establishes the priority groups for inoculation. The first people to get their shots were residents and employees of care homes, followed by frontline health workers, other healthcare personnel, and people with need for daily assistance who are not living in a care facility. Other groups will come later following an as yet undefined schedule. Depending on how specific this list is, regional officials will have more or less leeway to decide who gets inoculated next.
“When mass vaccination becomes available, we will analyze the order of the various groups,” said a source in the Madrid government. “But the first item on the agenda is having enough vaccines.”
Díaz Ayuso also told hospitality industry leaders that the region will return to a midnight curfew as soon as the epidemiological data allow it. For now and until February 8 at least, the curfew begins at 10pm but food and drink establishments must close at 9pm. The 14-day incidence rate in the region is 993 cases per 100,000 people.
The Madrid government says that closing down the sector only creates bankruptcies and drives up unemployment, and notes that regions that have taken that step have not managed to curb the surge in coronavirus cases.
“In Madrid we are doing everything we can to keep our hospitality industry and our culture [sector] open despite the political pressure we are getting from all institutions,” said the regional premier. Díaz Ayuso was in Barcelona last weekend where she stated that: “It is a crime to keep everything shut in Catalonia, with the [great] weather you have!” The Madrid leader argued that the Catalan government’s policy of closing the hospitality sector “has forced a great many people in Catalonia to watch their businesses go under.”
Other regional leaders within the conservative PP do not support Madrid’s decision to keep bars and restaurants open during the pandemic. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the Galician premier, on Sunday told the regional daily La Voz de Galicia: “Madrid has opted for a decision that I would not feel responsible about if I had to apply it to Galicia, and so I have opted for another.” Other conservative leaders in Andalusia, Castilla y León and Murcia have also adopted tougher measures than Madrid.
It is a crime to keep everything shut in Catalonia, with the [great] weather you have!Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso
“Madrid is playing with a bit of an advantage: in the space of what would be a province, it has six million people and a lot of hospitals, which gives it more flexibility,” said a source in the Castilla y León government. “During the second wave we closed large stores, the gaming sector and hospitality, and we provided them with aid to keep their outdoor seating open. It worked really well. Those are efficient measures. We have quickly brought down our cumulative incidence [of the coronavirus].”
Castilla y León has ordered the closure of food and drink venues in Palencia and 52 other municipalities. In Galicia, these establishments are closed across the entire region, non-essential stores have to close by 6pm and shopping centers are shut on weekends. In Andalusia, non-essential stores as well as food and drink venues have to close at 6pm, or shut entirely if the local 14-day incidence rate is higher than 1,000 per 100,000.
In Murcia, another PP-governed region, only takeout and home delivery is allowed. Sources in the regional executive said the closures are “a difficult but necessary measure, and above all an efficient one.”
Regional leaders affiliated with the Socialist Party (PSOE) have also been critical of Madrid’s more lenient approach, without mentioning the region by name. “Others in Spain are boasting about being less restrictive, so that when the barrier is lifted things will get complicated for everyone again,” said the premier of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page.
Cepyme, a small- and medium-sized business association, on Monday released a study suggesting that if Spain were to adopt a new home confinement, SMEs would sustain losses of €1.1 billion for every week of inactivity. Cepyme president Gerardo Cuerva asked the government for a direct-aid program in combination with tax benefits for the sector, and said that after 10 months of pandemic and a long list of restrictions, SMEs are “on their last legs.”
Spain’s new health minister, Carolina Darias – who replaced Salvador Illa last week – on Monday called on regional governments to expand their coronavirus measures as much as possible to improve the epidemiological figures. Meanwhile, Castilla-La Mancha leader García-Page is planning to request “national decisions” against the pandemic “if the third wave is not controlled.” The request would likely be made at this week’s meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System, a gathering of regional and central health officials.
Under the state of alarm approved by parliament in late October and due to expire in May, it is up to regional authorities to implement coronavirus measures, with an overnight curfew being the only mandatory measure on a national level. This state of emergency does not allow for a full home confinement like the one that kept Spaniards indoors from March to June of last year.
With reporting by Juan José Mateo, Gorka R. Pérez, Isabel Valdés and Elsa García de Blas.
English version by Susana Urra.