By midday on Sunday, the chants of “Unity!” and “Healthcare!” that echoed around a busy crossroads in north-east Madrid had given rise to a more specific demand: “Ayuso resign!”
On Friday, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Madrid region, announced that 850,000 people – many of them living in some of the poorest parts of the city and surrounding area – would be placed in partial lockdown from Monday in an attempt to arrest the second wave of the virus.
Neither Ayuso’s decision, nor her claim that “the way of life of immigrants in Madrid” was partly to blame for the current epidemiological situation, was well received in the 37 affected areas, where there are more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.
The neighbourhood groups that organised the protests around Madrid accused the regional government of spreading “fear and hatred” and picking on already marginalised communities.
“Instead of protecting and looking after the most vulnerable people in our city and seeing to it that they didn’t suffer the highest infection rates, they have instead opted for stigmatisation, exclusion and territorial discrimination,” they said in a joint manifesto.
They pointed out that many of those to be placed in confinement worked in low-paid but vital jobs such as in childcare, looking after older people, hospitality and delivery services. The groups also called for urgent action to help overstretched health centres cope with the demand, and for long-term investment in their communities.
Arturo Soriano was one of the hundreds of people who joined the demonstration in Ciudad Lineal. “I think Ayuso behaves according to her political ideology and not according to the interests of the people,” he said.
His wife, Alicia, said Madrid had come out of Spain’s strict, national lockdown too quickly and insufficient thought had been given to preparing for the second wave. But she also pointed out that Ayuso’s party, the conservative People’s party (PP), had not invested enough in Madrid’s healthcare system.
“The PP has spent years neglecting the basics, like healthcare,” she said. “It’s an old problem.”
Nearby stood two people holding up homemade placards that read “Racist!” and “Classist!”. Miguel Montoya, holding one of the signs, said the regional government was trying to stigmatise and discriminate against parts of the community, and drive a wedge between “people who were born in Spain and immigrants … It’s criminal”.
Spain has logged more than 640,000 Covid cases, 125,944 of them over the past two weeks alone. The Madrid region accounts for about a third of all cases and a similar proportion of the country’s 30,495 deaths.
Ayuso and Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, will meet in Madrid on Monday to see what can be done to “flatten the curve” in the region. The encounter is likely to be fraught as Ayuso has accused the central government of singling out Madrid, while the central government has called on regional authorities to do more.
The blame game continued in Sunday’s newspapers. Spain’s transport minister, José Luis Ábalos, told El País that the regional government had “put the economy before health”, while Madrid’s regional health minister, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, told ABC the Sánchez administration had been engaging in PR stunts instead of lending a hand.
The regional minister also dismissed suggestions that the partial lockdown punished the poor and favoured the rich. “The criteria have been strictly epidemiological,” he said. “It’s about the highest incidences and where the most cases are being detected.”
The protests in Madrid came a day after France reported nearly 13,500 new infections in 24 hours, bringing its total to 467,614. India, meanwhile, registered 92,605 new infections on Sunday, pushing its total caseload to 5.4m. The US remains the country with the most cases, with 6.7 m.