Spain relaxes lockdown rules as coronavirus trend improves

Government faces criticism for easing restrictions as some 4m return to work

Spain has lifted some of its lockdown restrictions, allowing millions of people back to work, as coronavirus's impact on the country appears to have eased off.

For the last four weeks, a state of emergency has been in place, under which the government has strictly limited Spaniards’ movements. On March 30th, it tightened the measures further, preventing non-essential workers from leaving their homes, in what was called an “economic hibernation”.

But on Monday that latter restriction was lifted, and workers from the building sector and heavy industry were among those allowed to return to their workplaces. Several Spanish regions were still on holiday, but some estimates put the total number of those returning to work this week at more than four million.

Police and security guards handed out facemasks to commuters at railway, bus and underground stations across the country. Although Madrid and other cities remained much quieter than normal, there was noticeably more traffic and use of public transport than there had been for the previous two weeks.


Downward trend

The lifting of the restriction comes as Spain has been recording encouraging data in its efforts to contain the virus. With 17,489 deaths attributed to Covid-19, it has been the second-hardest hit country in Europe, after Italy. But the health ministry reported on Monday that 517 people had died over the previous 24 hours, continuing an overall downward trend since April 2nd, when 950 deaths were recorded.

“This data allows us to confirm that we have got past the first phase of the epidemic, which was to get beyond its peak,” said health minister Salvador Illa.

“Our objective this week is to consolidate the second phase, to bend the curve downwards.”

The number of new infections registered on Monday was 3,477, the lowest since March 19th. However, the figures from the Easter weekend are being treated with caution because it is possible that delays in reporting data by local authorities may have artificially pushed them down.

Spain has a total of 169,496 confirmed cases, the second highest in the world after the United States.


The decision to allow non-essential workers to travel again has drawn criticism from some opposition politicians, who see it as premature. The Catalan president, Quim Torra, who has demanded tougher restrictions throughout the crisis, described this latest initiative as “reckless”.

However, prime minister Pedro Sánchez has played down the extent of the loosening of the lockdown. On Sunday, he said that “only the extreme measure of \economic] hibernation has ended”.

“The de-escalation will begin in two weeks at the earliest and it will be gradual and cautious,” he added.

Last week, congress approved his proposal to extend the lockdown until April 26th. However, he has made clear that he is likely to seek another extension when it expires.

Police have handed out more than 500,000 fines to people for flouting the lockdown, according to the interior ministry.

Meanwhile, in Italy some shops and businesses will be allowed to reopen on Tuesday, although prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said the country’s lockdown will continue until May 3rd.

Italy recorded 566 deaths on Monday, 135 more than on Sunday. The country has registered 159,516 infections.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain