Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s two largest cities, could remain under virtual lockdown as the rest of the country eases its way towards some semblance of normal life.
The two cities were the hardest hit by coronavirus in Spain, which itself has been one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.
Months into the crisis, officials around the globe are keen to get economies up and running again, and Spanish socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is no exception. With the nation’s state of emergency extended on Wednesday night for a further two weeks, Sanchez has the power to control citizens’ movements as Spain emerges from two months of lockdown.
The Health Ministry gave Spain’s coronavirus death toll for the past 24 hours as 213 on Thursday, down from 244 the previous day and far below peaks of nearly 1,000 per day in early April.
Sanchez’s plan to lift lockdown restrictions has four stages, in which restrictions are progressively eased, with each region applying to enter the next phase if it meets certain conditions, such as hospital capacity requirements.
The first phase would allow for groups of up to 10 people to meet in homes or outdoors, and street cafes to reopen. Religious celebrations can also be observed, as long as places of worship practise social distancing and limit themselves to 30 percent of their previous capacities.
Catalonia’s regional government on Wednesday said Barcelona and Girona would not be included in the first phase, which starts on Monday, saying there was a moderate to high risk of a new wave of infections.
But Madrid – the city which is at the centre of Spain’s outbreak, and which is still registering high numbers of new cases – has applied to the national health ministry to begin opening its doors on Monday.
It was a move that led to the resignation on Thursday of the city’s top public-health official, Yolanda Fuentes, who opposed lifting restrictions, newswire Europa reported, citing sources close to the regional health authority.
“We meet the health requirements; we can’t keep waiting,” Ignacio Aguado, vice president of the region of Madrid, told Spanish television. “We have to get used to living with COVID-19.”
Madrid cafe owner Sergio Munguira said he planned to reopen at midday on Monday, “unless they tell us differently”, with staff wearing gloves and masks and diners using QR codes to call up the menu on smartphones.
The rest of Spain’s regions are expected to make a smooth transition to the first phase of lifting lockdown.
The government aims to have the country back to normal by the end of June, with sufficient hospital capacity to combat potential outbreaks.
Small businesses such as hairdressers started to open this week – albeit with restrictions – while Spaniards are now allowed out of their houses for exercise.
On Thursday, Zara owner Inditex started to reopen some of its smaller shops to be visited by appointment as part of a gradual reopening of its retail network.