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Spain publishes decree for partial lockdown of Madrid despite opposition

Spain's government published a decree extending drastic restrictions across the capital on Thursday, with partial lockdown measures to come into play within 48 hours, despite fierce opposition from Madrid's regional authorities.

Spain publishes decree for partial lockdown of Madrid despite opposition
Photo: AFP

After a tense standoff lasting days, the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday evening said it had reached agreement with most of Spain's regions on the imposition of tough restrictions in areas where the virus is spreading rapidly. 

Currently that is only Madrid, which is struggling with a rate of 780 cases per 100,000 people, compared with just 300 per 100,000 in the rest of Spain — which in itself is the highest in the European Union.

But the region's rightwing government, which voted against the move, denounced the measures as “not legally enforceable” and said it was looking into a legal challenge.

According to the decree, the agreement “is obligatory for all regions.. within a maximum of 48 hours”.

 

Madrid's regional government reacted furiously to the new restrictions that affect mobility and gatherings, setting the scene for a political battle which could be dragged into the courts.

“The situation in Madrid is complex and worrying,” Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters, saying that of 11,016 new cases diagnosed in Spain over the past 24 hours, nearly 44 percent were in the Madrid region.

“That's why we have agreed to adopt these measures but we're aware that hard weeks lie ahead,” he said after talks with Spain's 17 autonomous regions who are responsible for public healthcare and managing the pandemic.

Spain is currently struggling with the highest number of new cases within the EU with a rate of around 300 per 100,000 inhabitants — but in the Madrid region, the rate currently stands at more than 780 per 100,000.

The announcement sparked a backlash from Madrid's top health official Enrique Ruiz Escudero who suggested the region could fight it through the courts.

“This is not legally enforceable,” he said, insisting the situation was “stable” and accusing the government of pedalling “a message of alarm and agitation”.


Regional president of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso (R) poses with PM Pedro Sanchez during emergency talks “to define a common strategy” on September 21st.

 

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's left-wing government has been locked in a standoff with Madrid's right-wing administration over its management of the crisis.

If the measures are published in the official government bulletin, as they plan to be, Madrid's regional government “would assess what kind of decisions were necessary,” Enrique Ruiz Escudero said.

Limits on mobility, meetings

After the talks with regional leaders, Illa said these had agreed “by a broad majority” to impose restrictions in all areas with more than 100,000 residents within their jurisdiction if three conditions were met.

The area must have reported more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days; it must have 35 percent or more intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, and positive results in at least 10 percent of
PCR tests.   

In the affected areas, there will be restrictions on mobility, all bars and restaurants will be forced to limit their opening hours and seating capacity, while social gatherings will be reduced to just six people.

Madrid is currently the only region with areas that meet all three criteria – including parts of the capital, which has three million residents.   

The greater Madrid region has 6.6 million residents and so far, the authorities have imposed a partial lockdown on just over a million of them, mostly in poorer areas south of the city.

There, people cannot leave their neighbourhood except for work, school or medical reasons.

But they are not confined to their homes and can circulate freely in their own district although parks are closed and bars and restaurants can only operate with limited opening hours and seating capacity.   

It was not immediately clear how the new mobility restrictions would work, with details to be published in the official government bulletin in the coming days.

Spain is currently fighting a second wave of the virus, which has now killed more than 31,000 people and infected close to 760,000 in what is the highest infection rate within 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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