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Is Madrid heading for a citywide lockdown?

Spain's government on Monday warned the Madrid authorities of drastic measures if the region failed to move decisively to slow the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus infections.

Is Madrid heading for a citywide lockdown?
Photos: AFP

The city and  surrounding region is at the epicentre of a second wave of coronavirus that is sweeping Spain, having claimed more than 31,000 lives and infected over 700,000 in the highest infection rate in the European Union.

Over the past week, the Madrid authorities have placed around a million people under partial lockdown, but the measures have fallen well short of the central government's demands, triggering a warning from Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo.   

If Madrid's conservative-led regional government did not toughen its strategy, “there is no doubt that (the central government) is prepared to do whatever is necessary” to rein in the virus, he told Spain's RNE public radio.

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Although Spain is struggling with the highest number of new cases within the EU with a rate of nearly 300 per 100,000 inhabitants — in the Madrid region, the figure currently stands at more than 775 per 100,000.

Campo's remarks came as the left-wing administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ramped up a campaign to pressure Madrid's regional government.    

Since the national state of emergency ended on June 21st, responsibility for public healthcare and managing the pandemic has been in the hands of Spain's 17 autonomous regions.

Over the past week, Madrid has imposed partial lockdowns on areas in and around the city where residents cannot leave their neighbourhoods unless for work, school or medical reasons. But they are not confined to home and can move freely within their district.   

An initial confinement order affecting 850,000 people was rolled out a week ago, with another 167,000 people added on Monday. Police are conducting random checks to ensure compliance with the new rules, which now apply to nearly one
in six of the region's 6.6 million residents.

'Serious risk'

The restrictions have been imposed in areas with an incidence of 1,000 cases per 100,00 people.

But Health Minister Salvador Illa has said the restrictions should be imposed across the capital as well as surrounding areas with more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, warning at the weekend that the region was putting residents “at serious health risk”.   

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has warned that drastic measures are needed in Madrid. 

“We are already late…we can't take this as a game,” the minister added on Monday following a meeting with Madrid regional health officials which did not break the impasse.

“The longer we wait, the more difficult the measures will be which we will have to adopt.”

Regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso of the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) rejected that stance.   

“Madrid cannot close,” she said, adding a city-wide lockdown was out of the question because of the devastating economic impact. 

'Take responsibility'


Ayuso (L) receives Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez prior to holding a meeting for emergency talks “to define a common strategy”  in Madrid on Sept 21st.

The stand-off began on Friday, just days after Sanchez and Ayuso met to discuss a coordinated response to the crisis.

As a top Madrid official outlined the raft of new restrictions, Spain's health minister addressed a parallel news conference to denounce the measures as not going far enough.   

Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, said if Madrid's conservative government refused to bend, the central government had a number of legal options, the “least aggressive” of which was to amend a decree regulating the “new normality” in an emergency.   

It could also take more drastic action to declare a state of emergency in Madrid, allowing the central government to take over the region's healthcare – or it could use a constitutional article to suspend the region's autonomy,
she said.   

But Sanchez's administration wanted Madrid to act because it knew that “direct intervention could be counter-productive”, allowing Diaz Ayuso and the PP to deflect blame for the crisis and accuse the central government of “using authoritarian means to usurp its powers”, said Pablo Simon, a political scientist at Madrid's Carlos III University.

Both administrations, he said, were keen “to avoid squandering any political capital, and nobody wanted to take responsibility for imposing unpopular measures even if they were necessary to manage the pandemic”.

By AFP's Diego Urdaneta

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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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