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VIDEO: Resignation and anger greet new Madrid lockdown

Fresh lockdown restrictions came into force Monday in parts of Madrid and surrounding areas, drawing outrage despite a surge in Covid-19 infections.

VIDEO: Resignation and anger greet new Madrid lockdown
Photos: AFP

The curbs, which will be in place for two weeks, affect 850,000 people in mainly densely-populated, low-income neighbourhoods.   

Residents are now only allowed to leave their zone for going to work, school or to seek medical care.

READ ALSO Rules, permits, fines: What you need to know if you live within Madrid's new confinement zones

 

Public parks are closed in the districts and cafes and restaurants must shut by 10 pm.

“It makes no sense because what difference will it make? The virus is in the air, it will be there,” said 65-year-old pensioner Maritere Vazquez.   

The regional government says the affected areas have all counted more than Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants — around five times the national average, which in itself is the highest in the European Union.

“If it's the case that right here there are more outbreaks, something had to be done, measures had to be taken,” Gustavo Ojeda, 56, told AFP at the exit of a metro station in Puente de Vallecas, a working class neighbourhood in southern Madrid as he returned home after working overnight at a warehouse on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.

 

 

Police checks    

In Puente de Vallecas, which was born out of a slum and was heavily bombed during Spain's 1936-39 civil war, there are 1,241 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

“Facts are facts, there is a source of infection on this side of Madrid,” said Ojeda, wearing a face mask.

He said when he went to work in recent days he would see people inside a bar without masks or “walking with their mask on their elbow, on their forehead.”

The metro station is on a main avenue that marks the border between Puente de Vallecas and another area which has escaped the restrictions.    

Police were not checking pedestrians but several patrol cars stopped vehicles at random to see if the passengers had proof that they had an acceptable reason to travel.

A policeman said officers were only reminding drivers of the new curbs but would start fining rulebreakers from Wednesday.

Andres Vieco, a 37-year-old jobless man, was stopped by the officer while on his way home after babysitting for a friend and was told he would not be allowed through in the future.   

“We will see how we can work around it,” Vieco said.    

Some 200 municipal police will be deployed at around 60 such checkpoints across Madrid to enforce the virus restrictions.

'People have to move'

 

In the adjoining side streets several people questioned why the restrictions were not put in place in the entire Madrid region, which is home to 6.6 million people and is the epicentre of the virus outbreak in Spain.

Alejandro Campos, a 30-year-old travel agent who has been working from home since March, said it will be hard to stop people from travelling between the different areas.

“You can't close one part of a neighbourhood and not another one, one street yes, and one street no. So, either you close everything, which will be catastrophic, or you close nothing,” he said as he took his two dogs for a
walk.   

Many people in southern Madrid neighbourhoods such as Puente de Vallecas work in service sector jobs and can't telecommute.    

“Unfortunately the people who are going to work in restaurants and bars are from here, people will have to move all the time, many people here are hospitality workers,” he said.

Words by AFP's Diego Urdaneta. Pictures by Oscar de Pozo. Video by Benjamin Bouly Rames 

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COVID-19

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.

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