Madrid agrees to new Covid restrictions after political row

Local government had resisted Spanish health ministry measures

Madrid and its surrounding region are the hub of Spain’s second wave of coronavirus, accounting for more than 40 per cent of new infections. Photograph: David Fernandez/EPA

Madrid and its surrounding region are the hub of Spain’s second wave of coronavirus, accounting for more than 40 per cent of new infections. Photograph: David Fernandez/EPA

 

The Madrid regional government has agreed to the introduction of a partial lockdown of the Spanish capital and several surrounding cities following a dispute with the central administration over how best to halt the spread of Covid-19.

The measures restrict movement in and out of each of the cities affected and put limits on numbers of people allowed in bars, restaurants, shops, churches and other public spaces. The health ministry has given local authorities until Saturday morning to implement the new rules, which will affect about 5 million people.

The decision comes after several days of clashes between the leftist central government of Pedro Sánchez and Madrid’s conservative-led regional administration. The local government introduced some restrictions in parts of the region on September 21st, extending them slightly earlier this week. However, there was disagreement as the Spanish government wanted tougher measures and for them to be implemented more extensively.

Madrid and its surrounding region are the hub of Spain’s second wave of coronavirus, accounting for more than 40 per cent of new infections. Spain has registered a total of 778,607 cases, the highest number in Europe. On Thursday it reported 9,419 new infections and 182 deaths over the previous 24 hours.

Madrid’s regional president, Isabel Díaz-Ayuso, has claimed that the central government is focusing on Madrid due to political motives, and that tighter restrictions would risk strangling the local economy.

On Thursday, in an apparent U-turn, she agreed to introduce the measures but said she will appeal against them in court, a move which could possibly delay their implementation.

“This regional government is not rebelling and it will fulfil all orders in a strict fashion, because we’re not like your [Catalan] pro-independence partners,” she said, addressing Mr Sánchez’s minority coalition.

While Mr Sánchez appealed for unity, saying that “the virus is the enemy”, some members of his government were highly critical of Ms Díaz-Ayuso’s delay in agreeing to the restrictions. The government’s delegate in Madrid, Manuel Franco, said she was using the pandemic as a political weapon and that “without institutional loyalty we won’t win this battle”.

The new restrictions are in theory applicable in any Spanish city with more than 100,000 people and they were approved by a majority of the country’s regional administrations on Wednesday, although five of them voted against.

However, only the city of Madrid and nine surrounding cities will be immediately affected because of the criteria required to trigger the measures. Those are: an infection rate of more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous two weeks; an intensive care occupancy rate of more than 35 per cent; and a positive test rate of more than 10 per cent.

Pablo Casado, leader of Ms Díaz-Ayuso’s Popular Party (PP), attacked the central government’s strategy.

“They charge in like a bull in a china shop without any scientific basis,” he said.