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COVID-19

The regions of Spain where restrictions are likely to remain after the state of alarm

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has announced that the country's state of alarm will end on May 9th, a decision that could mean most Covid restrictions are scrapped. But with rising infections across much of the country, not all regional authorities are on board with the end of restrictions.

Restrictions in Spain
Pau BARRENA / AFP

“The Government’s objective is that once the period of the state of alarm has expired, on May 9th, it will not be necessary to extend it further,” Prime Minister Sánchez told a press conference in La Moncloa, adding that “currently we are approaching the end of this nightmare”.

Under the state of alarm, which has been imposed for the last six months since October 2020, Spain’s central government, and in particular the Interior Ministry, held all powers, including over the country’s security forces as well as local and regional police forces.

This meant that the government has had more powers over laws and restrictions. It has also meant that the governments of Spain’s 17 autonomies have been allowed to decide on restrictions and regulations within their own borders, without having to get permission from a regional court to pass or modify measures.

READ ALSO: How the end of Spain’s state of alarm in May could affect you

This could mean an end to curfews, border closures and limits on social gatherings. A group of experts told Europa Press that it is likely we could still see perimeter closures, but that they would probably be at the level of health zones and neighborhoods rather than entire autonomous community closures.

But how have Spain’s autonomous communities reacted to the confirmation that the state of alarm will end on May 9th and in which regions are restrictions likely to remain beyond this date?

Initially, The Basque Country, Castilla La-Mancha, Andalusia and Murcia were all opposed to ending the state of alarm in May and asked Sánchez to extend the state of alarm further, allowing them to continue making rules on restrictions without having to get permission from a regional court.

However, since then Castilla La-Mancha, along with La Rioja and Valencia have all said that their regional borders would reopen and are adapting to the situation. 

The president of the Basque Country, Inigo Urkullo was one of the most outspoken against the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. On April 12th, Urkullo urged Sanchez to extend the emergency, saying without it he would lack the legal means to impose restrictions. He said it is “a very delicate situation” and that he is “concerned about how this decision will play out”.

The president of the region of Murcia, Fernando Lopez Miras agreed, saying that “there is enormous insecurity” and that they are “without legal support” to make decisions in the face of the pandemic.

Galicia, the Valencian Community, Cantabria and Castilla y León also showed their reservations about not extending the state of alarm.

Extremadura, Aragón, Asturias and Navarra stand with Sánchez however and agree that ending the state of alarm is a positive thing. The governments of these regions have said that it’s not possible to live eternally in a state of alarm and that putting an end to it is just and necessary, taking into account current data and the vaccination schedule.

Government spokesman of Navarra, Javier Remírez insisted that the autonomous community has “the necessary instruments” to be able to take measures to deal with Covid-19 when the state of alarm is lifted.

Curfew time in Barcelona. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Andalusia

The government of Andalusia has expressed some concerns about the end of the state of alarm and insisted that Sánchez must provide a legal framework for autonomous communities to make restrictions after May 9th. “On Monday the curfew ends and we cannot close beaches with very high contagion rates because the state of alarm is finished and the communities are tied up,” said President of the Junta of Andalucia, Juanma Moreno during a press conference in Granada on Friday, April 30th. 

The Minister of Health of the Junta de Andalucía, Jesús Aguirre has indicated that some restrictions within the region will remain, most likely to do with mobility and capacity. “Some health areas will be at extreme risk, which will mean changing the level of alerts and measures such as municipal closures and capacity limitations,” he said.

Valencia

The President of the Generalitat de Valencia Ximo Puig proposed on Monday, May 3rd that the perimeter closure of the Valencian Community should be lifted. However, he stressed that just because the state of alarm is ending, it doesn’t mean we will return to normality. In a press conference, Puig said that people should not have “false expectations” that all the restrictions will suddenly end.

“We are going to continue with the necessary restrictions and only the necessary ones, we do not want to continue with the restrictions just because,” he said. The Interdepartmental Commission will meet in the next few days to discuss what measures will stay in place going forward. 

Catalonia

It is expected that the nightly curfew in Catalonia will finally be lifted after May 9th, allowing Catalans to leave their homes after 10pm for the first time since October 2020. Government spokesperson, Meritxell Budó, said that “no additional measures will be needed after May 9th, if Covid transmissions remain under control”. When asked in an interview on Ràdio4 and La2 about whether the perimeter confinement will be lifted, she replied that “it still has to be evaluated”. The Catalan Government will meet on Tuesday, May 4th to address the situation and pass new legislation so that, if necessary, the Generalitat can reactivate some of the restrictions that are due to expire. 

The Balearics

According to Diario de Mallorca, the government of the Balearic islands is already working on ways it will be able to implement restrictions beyond next May 9th. The president of the Balearics, Francina Armengol, said on April 8th that the Balearic Islands need “all the legal tools” to establish restrictions in the face of the pandemic, including the possibility of resorting to the curfew, which she called a “fundamental measure”.

At a press conference following a cabinet meeting on Monday, May 3rd, Balearic government spokesperson Iago Negueruela said: “Of course there will be restrictions” after the state of alarm ends on May 9th. It is thought that measures such as restrictions on bar and restaurant opening hours, capacity and the nightly curfew will remain in place, but Negueruela said that the government, business, and union representatives will meet this week to decide. 

Canary Islands

Initially, the Canarian president, Ángel Víctor Torres, welcomed the news of the ending of the state of alarm. “Everything will evolve according to social, individual and collective responsibility,” he said.

However, on April 29th, Canary Island Government spokesman Julio Pérez, said that the idea is to maintain as many restrictions as possible when the state of alarm ends on May 9th, because the archipelago has to be “an attractive tourist destination”.

The Canary Islands are keen to maintain some restrictions after the state of alarm ends. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN / AFP

Madrid

Madrid has enjoyed some of the most relaxed restrictions in the country with regards to curfews and the opening hours of bars and restaurants, and it is expected that this won’t change when the state of alarm ends. The Madrid elections on May 4th however, may decide on how the community will move forward.

READ ALSO: Spain’s socialists face drubbing in Madrid regional election

Galicia

Galicia’s Popular Party regional president Alberto Núñez Feijóo criticised Sánchez and his left-wing government saying: “We are left without legal coverage or legislation in the face of the pandemic”. He showed concern about the lack of alternative plans after the end of the state of alarm. It is still unclear which measures will remain in Galicia after May 9th, but the Xunta de Galicia is currently working on ways it will be able to extend restrictions. 

Castilla-La Mancha

The Government of Castilla-La Mancha has also said that it will not maintain the perimeter closure of the community from May 9th, but will continue with other restrictions such as the use of the masks and the curfew. On Monday, May 3rd, the president of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page said: “We continue to believe in the use of the mask, the curfew, and other effective measures in this time of transition to universal vaccination,” he said. García-Page also stressed that there must be a balance between the restrictions and opening up completely back to normal life “We don’t want to go from one hundred to zero, or from zero to one hundred,” he explained. 

La Rioja 

La Rioja will abolish both the curfew and the perimeter border closures after the state of alarm. On Monday, May 2nd President of the regional government Concha Andreu explained that a new traffic light system would be implemented to impose different restrictions if necessary. However, she said that the details of this new plan would not be revealed until later on in the week. 

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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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