UPDATE: Madrid region launches last minute appeal but new restrictions begin at 10pm

Madrid's regional leaders on Friday filed a legal challenge against the imposition of a partial lockdown across the capital and several nearby towns, just hours before it came into force.

UPDATE: Madrid region launches last minute appeal but new restrictions begin at 10pm
Photo: AFP

Presented to the National Court, the appeal challenges a central government decree which allows for the imposition of restrictions on the capital and nine other nearby towns to slow the spread of the virus.

The new measures, which will mean 4.5 million people cannot leave the city, or their town, except for work, school or medical/legal reasons, will come into force at 10pm.

UPDATED Q&A: What you can and can't do under Madrid's new lockdown rules

The decree, which outlines conditions for restrictions in areas where the virus is spreading rapidly, was agreed on Wednesday at talks between the health ministry and most of Spain's 17 regions, who are responsible for managing the pandemic.   

In reality, Madrid is the only region where the restrictions will apply given it is struggling with a rate of 730 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.   

The region's rightwing government, however, voted against the move but has said it will implement the measures while denouncing them as “not legally enforceable” and pledging a court challenge.

In the first few days, police will not be issuing fines until the new restrictions are validated by a regional court.

Spanish experts warned the measures were too little, too late and would be very difficult to implement. 

“For all epidemiologists, these restrictions are coming very late, they should have been put in place much earlier, by the start of September,” said Salvador Peiro of FISABIO, a healthcare research organisation in the Valencia area.

Closing off the perimeter was a measure which was “very easy to implement in certain towns but very hard in large cities” such as Madrid, he said, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of people travel every day, often on public transport, to work in nearby towns.

Fernando Garcia, an epidemiologist at the Madrid public health association, expressed surprise they “did not include a recommendation to work from home” as during the three-month lockdown that started in March.

And he thought the restrictions on seating capacity in bars and restaurants — reduced to 50 percent indoors and 60 percent at terraces — should have been greater.

Others said merely reducing mobility was not enough given the scarcity of track-and-trace resources, with the Madrid authorities urgently requesting military help.

READ ALSO:  Spain's military help track and trace those exposed to the coronavirus

The partial lockdown is far less stringent than the one imposed across the country in March and April, which was one of the toughest in the world.   

Back then, people were only permitted to leave home to go shopping, to work or for medical reasons and were not initially allowed out for a walk or to exercise.

This time, residents will be able to circulate freely within the city, or their town, although bars and restaurants must operate with limited opening hours and seating capacity.

The virus has now killed nearly 32,000 people in Spain and has infected around 760,000.


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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.