Coronavirus: Spanish government orders Madrid lockdown amid regional opposition

·2-min read
Madrid has a rate of  780 cases per 100,000 people (AFP via Getty Images)
Madrid has a rate of 780 cases per 100,000 people (AFP via Getty Images)

The Spanish government has ordered a lockdown in Madrid and some surrounding areas after coronavirus cases in the capital rose to more than a third of the country’s total.

However, the new restrictions have been met with staunch opposition from Madrid’s regional government, who say the lockdown is not legally valid.

The majority of the country’s regional governments voted on Wednesday to introduce restrictions in areas that met the following criteria: 500 infections per 100,000 residents, 35 per cent patient occupancy in hospitals’ intensive care units and positive results in one in ten tests.

Cases in the region make up more than one in three of the 133,604 cases confirmed in Spain over the past two weeks.

Watch: Madrid starts fast COVID testing in locked down neighbourhoods

Despite Madrid – which has 780 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – meeting the benchmarks, its regional government, which did not vote in favour of the restrictions, is against an area-wide lockdown.

Under the new restrictions, which would also affect nine badly-hit towns near the capital city, visitors would only be allowed into Madrid on essential trips, such as work, medical appointments and shopping. A maximum of six people will be able to meet socially.

The conservative opposition that runs the Madrid region has said the lockdown is not legally valid, with regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero charging the central government with sending a "message of alarm and agitation".

Mr Escudero claimed instead that region’s "situation is under control” and that there were “initial signs that we are entering into a favourable situation”, including fewer hospitalisations on some days compared to a week earlier.

“We are not breaking anything,” tweeted Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the leader of the capital’s regional government. “We are looking for a consensus text based on technical parameters, not on three generic [metrics]. We are talking about restricting the fundamental rights of millions of people.”

In lieu of a lockdown, capital’s regional government had instead tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus by imposing restrictions on 45 healthcare wards.

As these measures predominantly impacted working-class districts of the city, they triggered protests by residents who viewed the restrictions as discriminatory. Many residents were worried the new curbs would deprive them of income.

Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said the localised restrictions did not discriminate against the poor, adding: "There are no first-class residents and second-class residents... We have to be together at this moment."

However, the central government argued for stricter restrictions in the city, to end any unnecessary movement across Madrid.

Spain has the highest infection rate in Europe, with a significant rise in cases in recent weeks.

More than 31,791 people have died during the pandemic and there have been more than 769,000 infections, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker.

Additional reporting by agencies

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