The Spanish government has imposed tough new travel restrictions in Madrid to slow down infections in the center of the country's second wave – but local authorities are resisting the plan.
Under the new rules, city limits would be closed for non-essential travel, parks and playgrounds would be closed, gatherings would be limited to six people and bars and restaurants would be closed at 11 p.m.
The measures ordered by the Spanish Ministry of Health come from the fact that Madrid suffers from one of the highest infection rates of any region in Europe and is putting pressure on hospitals in which more than 40 percent of the beds in the intensive care unit in Madrid are filled with Covid 19 patients.
However, the regional leaders oppose the measures after weeks of clashes between the left Spanish government and the right-wing authorities in Madrid.
"The decision is not legally valid," said regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero repeatedly at a press conference last night. However, it was not clear what measures Madrid could take to resist the lockdown.
Escudero accused the Spanish government of ignoring signs of stabilization in the outbreak and insisted that "the situation be controlled".
"We have always expected the hospital to contain this pandemic and we have had several days when the balance between discharges and admissions is good," he said. "The government is in a hurry to lock Madrid."
Members of the Spanish Military Emergencies Unit (UME) wearing protective clothing leave the Lope de Vega cultural center in the Vallecas neighborhood, where a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 was carried out for residents of the area on September 30
The death rate remains low: Spain's coronavirus deaths are currently at 100 per day – still well below the maximum of 844 on the worst day of the March summit
Madrid's resistance is setting the stage for a political battle that could be brought to justice.
Wednesday's refusal to adopt national standards approved by 13 of Spain's 19 regions and autonomous cities was a new setback for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's left-wing coalition seeking a stricter approach in the opposition-ruled Spanish capital Urge reaction.
The impasse also exposed some of the pitfalls of the country's highly decentralized political system, which irritated many Spaniards and undermined their confidence in how politicians were handling a worrying surge in virus cases more than six months after the pandemic that first overwhelmed Spain .
Madrid is leading in resuscitating the virus in Spain and Europe. The region has a two-week infection rate of 784 cases per 100,000 people, which is 2 1/2 times higher than the national average of 294 cases and seven times higher than the average rate in Europe, which was 94 per 100,000 people last week, according to EU- Statistics.
The Sánchez government wants tougher measures in Madrid, targeting not only the working-class neighborhoods but also the existing restrictions in the parts of the city with the highest levels of contamination. However, the center-right government of Madrid is resisting a city-wide partial lockdown, arguing that it does not want to damage the economy any further.
The regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero accused the Spanish government of failing to take into account health indicators showing a stabilization of the outbreaks in the Madrid region.
& # 39; The situation is being controlled. We have always expected the hospital to contain this pandemic, and we have had several days when the balance between discharges and admissions is favorable, ”he said at a press conference on Wednesday evening. "The government is in a hurry to lock Madrid."
The Spanish Ministry of Health had proposed a number of health metrics that would dictate when cities with populations over 100,000 must introduce stricter restrictions to contain the virus. Under these criteria, orders to stay within city limits and other restrictions would currently only apply to the city of Madrid and nine of its suburbs due to the high rates of infection in these locations.
In addition to Madrid, officials from three other regions, led by conservative and center-right parties, and from separatist-ruled northeast Catalonia rejected the government's document at a meeting on Wednesday.
Members of the Spanish Military Emergency Unit (UME) wearing protective clothing prepare to disinfect the Lope de Vega cultural center in the Vallecas district
A waiter disinfects a table in downtown Madrid, Spain on Wednesday. Madrid leads the way in resuscitating the virus in Spain and Europe
In Spain, hospital admissions related to coronaviruses in the second wave of infections have risen, although they have not yet reached the peak reached in the spring
Regional health chief Alba Vergés said Catalonia had decided to follow its own plan, which she described as more ambitious than the national guidelines drafted for Madrid.
& # 39; This has turned into a circus. We said that at this stage it is important to act responsibly and to make arrangements that do not endanger public health, ”said Vergés. "We have discussed a document that conflicts with the measures we are already taking."
Given that 13 regions supported the guidelines, Health Minister Salvador Illa announced at a press conference that the plan would be implemented at national level regardless of the opposition.
"When you go to the doctor you expect to tell the truth: the situation in Madrid is difficult," said Illa, emphasizing that four out of ten infections reported in Spain on Wednesday were in the Spanish capital. "We are facing very difficult weeks," he added.
"The situation in Madrid is complex and worrying," Illa told reporters. Of the 11,016 new cases diagnosed in Spain in the last 24 hours, nearly 44 percent were in the Madrid region.
A shoe shiner brushes a customer's shoes in downtown Madrid on Wednesday. Regional health chief Alba Vergés said Catalonia had decided to follow its own plan, which she described as more ambitious than the national guidelines being drawn up for Madrid
"That is why we have agreed to take these measures, but we are aware that tough weeks are ahead," he said after speaking to the 17 autonomous regions of Spain responsible for public health care and fighting the pandemic .
Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen steadily nationwide since a state of emergency declared due to the pandemic ended at the end of June. Sánchez was criticized for hoarding too much power and handed control of the pandemic to regional governments.
In theory, the move allowed regional officials to tailor their responses to new outbreaks to suit local conditions, but the results of the change have varied.
While the regions of Aragon and Galicia in the north have managed to loosen their summer infection curves, and the Asturias region has so far avoided large case clusters, Madrid has caused a third of the new cases reported daily in recent weeks. As the number of confirmed cases there multiplied, regional officials blamed the central government and called for help and national guidelines.
Madrid Ambulance Service (SUMMA) health workers are conducting rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 in the southern neighborhood of Vallecas in Madrid on Tuesday
A member of the Madrid Ambulance Service (SUMMA) checks a man's temperature before performing a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 in the southern neighborhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday
Much of the conflict has to do with decades of political struggle for control of the Madrid region, a conservative stronghold that has been a showcase for Conservative People's Party politics for more than two decades.
According to the new metrics, all major cities are subject to new restrictions if they have a two-week infection rate of over 500 cases per 100,000 population, have an intensive occupancy of more than 35% of the maximum capacity, and more than 10% of the virus tests performed are back positive.
Restrictions include justifying travel in and out of cities, limiting gatherings to six people, closing playgrounds, and limiting customers and opening hours in shops and restaurants.
An elderly woman is waiting for a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 in the southern neighborhood of Vallecas on Tuesday
Over 1 million people are already living under such measures, and many on Wednesday expressed doubts about how effective they are.
"The government should punish those who fail to follow medical recommendations, such as young people," said Carlos Medrano, a taxi driver in central Madrid. "It is only when you aim at people's pockets that they start to correspond."
Taxi driver Gregorio Muñoz agreed that the current measures were insufficient. "It would be better if we stayed at home and didn't go out like we did in March," said Muñoz.
As of Wednesday, Spain reported a total of nearly 770,000 confirmed coronavirus cases during the pandemic and a virus death rate of over 31,700, although experts say all the numbers underestimate the real number of pandemics due to limited testing and other factors.
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