How likely is a full regional lockdown in Catalonia?

The Catalan president has warned citizens that the region has ten days to solve a “critical” rise in infections or return to the measures introduced in March, alluding to the full lockdown which kept millions confined at home. But is a return to strict home confinement in Catalonia a plausible outcome?

How likely is a full regional lockdown in Catalonia?
Photos: AFP

“We’re facing the ten most decisive days of the summer in the sense that we’re in a critical situation,” Catalan president Quim Torra said at a press conference on Monday. 

“It’s in our hands, in terms of our civic and historical responsibility, to stop this situation from worsening and to prevent the regression that nobody wants for our country.”

It’s unclear whether Torra was referring to Catalonia or Spain as “our country” but by “regression” the regional leader was quite possibly speaking of a return to lockdown, although – as has become common among Spanish politicians – he stopped short of explicitly using the word “confinamiento” (lockdown).

However, the fact that on several occasions he referred to returning to the situation “in March” suggests that the Catalan leader was indeed speaking of a full lockdown rather than just stricter mobility measures.

“Figuratively speaking, we’re in the precursor stage of what we faced in March and we all know what happened then,” Torra said.

“I’m not ruling out that this will happen again. We’ve got everything on the line. Let’s see if we can avoid having to relive those dark days again, nobody wants that.”

Torra’s words suggest that his government will take whatever steps necessary if the region’s infection rate worsens in the next ten days, a wakeup call for all residents to stick to the social distancing and hygiene rules.

But his warning somewhat clashes with the few words he said in English, addressing foreign visitors and assuring them that Catalonia is a responsible tourist destination that follows international recommendations in the fight against the coronavirus.

The only exceptions according to Torra are where the region’s most serious outbreaks are: Segrià (Lérida/Lleida), Figueres (Girona) and Barcelona.

UPDATE July 30th: Catalonia eases lockdown in Lérida as Covid outbreak brought under control 

“The rest of Catalonia is not affected and is safe,” he concluded.

Would tourists in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia be able to get out if a sudden lockdown was imposed and sudden flight cancellations ensued?

In recent days Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the UK have either advised against travel to Catalonia or introduced quarantine for returning tourists. 

Foreign governments have been spurred to introduce the warnings and restrictions for Catalonia given that outbreaks that started in early July have still not been fully controlled, despite quickly implemented local lockdowns.

In Barcelona’s case, Catalonia’s regional government urged the 3 million people living in its metropolitan area on July 17th to stay at home as much as possible in a bid to stop a spike in infections in the capital.

Cinemas, theatres and nightclubs were also closed, the seating capacity for bars and restaurants was halved and gatherings of more than 10 people were banned. 

But ten days later, Covid-19 cases in Barcelona’s metropolitan area have tripled, representing 73 percent of new infections in the region, figures which suggest the restrictions didn’t exactly work.

Could Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants return to a full lockdown like the one in March?  

The latest coronavirus figures for Catalonia from Tuesday July 28th are not promising either: 1,055 more infections and 22 deaths.

The region’s cumulative infection rate for the past seven days is 137 per 100,000 inhabitants, second only to neighbouring Aragón where it is 334 per 100,000. Catalonia also has nearly half of all new Covid-19 cases in Spain.

The municipality of Castelldefels, 15 minutes’ drive from Barcelona, has even asked Catalonia’s regional government to impose restrictions on its inhabitants to combat a spike in cases.

So far the Catalan government has been prepared to quickly impose localised lockdowns only in areas with concerning outbreaks, rather than in whole provinces or the region as a whole.

But with infections still rising and Torra’s ten-day deadline looming, a full strict lockdown (or a return to one of the early phases of lockdown de-escalation) in Catalonia cannot be ruled out.  

Update July 31st

Catalonia's government has started easing some restrictions in the region after measures led to a “downward trend” of new coronavirus cases in recent days.

Lockdown in the city of Lleida and another six municipalities of the badly-hit area of Segrià was lifted on Wednesday July 29th.

The ban on cultural and sports activities in Lleida province and Barcelona's metropolitan area has also now been scrapped.

Bar and restaurant terraces have now been allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity as well.

“We've been able to stabilise the curve in Lleida, but we've got to be careful,” Catalan health chief Alba Vergés said on Wednesday.

“The pressure on its health centres is very high. We cannot let our guard down with this situation.”  

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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.