Spanish capital sees court battle between regional and national government over COVID restrictions
— 3 minute read — By Maggie Gannon
The political turmoil between Spain’s left-wing coalition government (the Socialist party and Unidas Podemos) and Madrid’s regional centre-right alliance (the People’s Party and Ciudadanos) has led citizens to become frustrated that a public health crisis has turned into a political debate dictated by personal agendas.
Although Spain struggled immensely during the first few months of its coronavirus epidemic, it was one of the first few nations to bring quite controversial restrictions into place, including banning children from going outside. Despite this, the need to reopen tourism in order to boost a diminishing economy led to another growth in daily case numbers by the end of August. Hospital admissions began to spiral with this increase of 10,000 cases per day, a number that is simply unmanageable for health services.
These difficult circumstances led to an increasingly bitter political divide. After Madrid’s regional government won a court battle not to impose another local lockdown, the national government were compelled to order a state of emergency in the city and eight surrounding areas. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez invoked emergency constitutional powers to impose restrictions over the regional government’s wishes.
Madrid’s community president Isabel Díaz Ayuso insisted that the virus was manageable, arguing that another lockdown would further damage the economy. The federal government, also based in Madrid, remain unstirred in accusing the regional party of sitting on their hands, with Spain’s health minister commenting “the president of the community of Madrid has decided to do nothing. Patience has its limits”.
This fifteen-day state of emergency which ended on 24th October saw non-essential banned and people limited to meeting in groups of a maximum size of six. Further, businesses such as restaurants and hotels were limited to 50 percent capacity and subject to an 11pm closing time, while places of worship were limited to a third of their usual attendance.
This came at an irritating time for many Madrid residents who planned to celebrate a long holiday weekend, some travelling large distances to see family and friends. Prior to these rules expiring, on Friday 23rd October, Madrid’s regional government announced new changes that would be put in place after the state of emergency had run its course. Some of these measures are due to take place for the following months in the entire region while others aim to target 32 high-risk areas. Under these rules, bars and restaurants must close by midnight and work with limited capacities. Indoor sports venues, cinemas and theatres will also run on reduced capacities, and socialising between households is not to be permitted between the hours of midnight to 6am. Tighter restrictions are in force for those in basic healthcare areas as they enter a perimetral lockdown meaning travel is limited for essential reasons, bars and restaurants are to be shut by 10pm, and children’s playgrounds will be closed for two weeks.
Although rumours of a night-time curfew were circulating, it seems the Spanish government have not yet come to a national consensus on this move, only allowed being allowed to provide the legal framework for such a move. As other regions in Spain have decided to impose some tough restrictions, with bars and restaurants in Catalonia ordered to close, as well as Navarre ordering a two-week local lockdown, perhaps many other areas might shortly follow.
Spain has now become the sixth nation worldwide to report one million cases of coronavirus, becoming the first western European nation to do so. As case numbers of the virus begin to steadily crawl back up, what the next few months will bring for citizens living within and outside Spain’s capital is uncertain and worrying.