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‘They don’t confine the rich’: Hundreds protest partial lockdown in Madrid’s low-income barrios

Hundreds of people protested in Madrid on Sunday against partial lockdown measures imposed on parts of the region, mainly in densely populated low-income neighbourhoods, to curb a surge in coronavirus cases.

'They don't confine the rich': Hundreds protest partial lockdown in Madrid's low-income barrios
A protester holds a sign reading "It is not confinement but segregation". Photos: AFP

Since September 21 some 850,000 people have been confined to their neighbourhoods and unable to leave except for work, school or medical reasons although they are able to move freely within their own areas.

Parks in the affected areas are closed and restaurants and other businesses must shut at 10 pm.

From Monday another 167,000 people in the region of some 6.6 million people will be confined to their neighbourhoods.

“It's not confinement, it's segregation!” the crowd chanted outside of the parliament of the regional government of Madrid in the southern district of Vallecas, one of the mainly southern neighbourhoods affected by the partial lockdown measures which came into effect last week.

Protesters called for the resignation of conservative Madrid regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, who drew criticism for saying that the “lifestyle” of people in the affected areas was partly to blame for the rise in Covid-19 cases.

READ ALSO: 

“They don't confine the rich,” was among one of the signs on display at the protest which drew groups young people, retired couples and young parents pushing baby strollers.

The Madrid measures fall short of a demand by Spain's leftist central government, which has urged the region to impose city-wide restrictions, a view shared by many of the protesters.

“It makes no sense that you can go to work in a wealthier area but can't go have a drink. Infections are rising everywhere, the rules should be the same for everyone,” Marcos Ruiz Guijarro, a 27-year-old electrician who went to the rally with a group of friends, told AFP.

Many demonstrators complained that the regional government was failing to improve public healthcare or doing anything to address the problem of an overcrowded transport system where they said the virus could easily spread.

Madrid and the surrounded region is at the epicentre of a second wave of coronavirus that is sweeping Spain. The virus has claimed over 31,000 lives and infected over 700,000 in Spain, the highest infection rate in the European Union.

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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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