Spain considers state of emergency for virus-hit Madrid

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is holding an emergency Cabinet meeting on Friday morning to consider declaring a state of emergency for Madrid and its surrounding region in order to impose stronger anti-virus restrictions on the reluctant regional governors.

The meeting comes a day after a Madrid court struck down a national government order that imposed a partial lockdown in the Spanish capital and its suburbs. The ruling sided with regional officials who had appealed the application of stricter measures against one of Europe’s most worrying virus clusters.

The judges said that travel restrictions in and out of the cities might be necessary to fight the spread of the coronavirus, but that under the current legal framework they were violating residents’ “fundamental rights.”

The national government said late Thursday night that Sánchez had spoken by telephone with Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso and gave her an ultimatum. Sánchez told Ayuso that if she did not quickly tighten measures or make a formal request for his national government to declare a state of emergency, then his government would go ahead and declare it anyway.

A state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers in time of crises to temporarily limit the constitutional rights of citizens. In this case, it would limit their freedom of movement by restarting perimeter controls on Madrid and some nearby towns also suffering from high contagion rates.

A much stricter nationwide state of emergency that began with home confinements was applied by the government from March until June to successfully rein in Spain’s first wave of the virus that causes COVID-19. Since it ended, the regions have regained control of health policy and their responses to controlling outbreaks has varied. Some have applied perimeter lockdowns around areas or towns with viral clusters.

The Madrid region has a 14-day infection rate of 591 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, more than twice Spain’s national average of 257 and five times the European average rate of 113 for the week ending Sept. 27.

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Face masks mandatory in northeast Spain amid virus uptick

Authorities in northeast Spain will start fining individuals who do not wear face masks 100 euros ($113) starting Thursday when the use of masks becomes mandatory in Barcelona and the surrounding Catalonia region following a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Spain ended a nationwide lockdown in mid-June after restrictions on movement and public activity succeeded in reining in the country’s virus outbreak after it had pushed the healthcare system to the breaking point and killed thousands of people.

But with most restrictions lifted and some people not following social-distancing rules, the number of confirmed new cases reported daily in Spain has begun to creep up. Confirmed cases doubled between Tuesday and Wednesday amid dozens of small outbreaks.

The biggest increase was in the Catalonia region, with 52 new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period and nearly 2,000 in the past two weeks.

A number of the 500 recent confirmed cases in a rural county around the city of Lleida have been tied to the summer fruit harvest, which draws in migrant day laborers who often work and live in poor conditions. Regional authorities locked down the area on Saturday and have linked 11 of 15 outbreaks there to farm work.

Health authorities warn that the area’s hospitals are already filling up. An inflatable emergency ward has been installed at the gates of a local hospital, a grim reminder of the makeshift medical facilities and morgues set up in Spain when it was among the world’s leading virus hot spots in the spring.

“We are not saturated now, but we could be in the next few days if we don’t reinforce our medical staff and start transferring patients,” regional health official Ramón Sentís said Wednesday.

Masks are mandatory in shared indoor spaces and also outdoors when distance can’t be maintained throughout Spain. Catalonia, which has a population of 7.5 million, is the first region to extend the requirement to situations when people are able to remain 1.5 meters (5 feet) from one another.

The move comes after a notable drop in face mask use in the streets and adherence to social distancing rules.

A county in the northwest Galicia region that is home to 71,000 residents also has been closed off, while masks are now mandatory in a town in the central north Basque Country region. Both Galicia and the Basque Country have regional elections scheduled for Sunday.



The uptick in cases comes as Spain is hoping to salvage its critical tourism industry by encouraging Spaniards to take vacations inside the country and sending the message to foreigners that Spain is a safe place to visit despite the pandemic. Spain had a pandemic death toll of more than 28,390 as of Wednesday.

Neighboring Portugal, which had done well in controlling the virus, is also concerned about an increase in new virus cases in the capital of Lisbon.

Portugal’s Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 443 new cases, 74% of them in the Lisbon metropolitan area.

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