MADRID – Authorities in Madrid are expanding restrictions on movement to another eight areas of the Spanish capital, which is leading the country’s coronavirus contagion curve, despite a recommendation from the national government that the partial lockdown should apply to all of the city.
Over 850,000 residents in 37 neighborhoods have been confined this week to their areas unless they have a reason to go elsewhere, while maximum capacity in shops and restaurants has been reduced and parks closed.
Those limitations will now be expanded to 160,000 more people in areas where more than 1,000 people per 100,000 residents have tested positive for the new virus in the past two weeks — the highest rates in Europe — the Madrid regional government announced Friday.
Throughout Madrid and its surrounding region, gatherings are already limited to a maximum of 6 people.
In a hastily organized press conference, national Health Minister Salvador Illa said that the Spanish government was recommending tougher measures, including a partial lockdown, for the whole of Madrid and its 3.3 million residents. He also said that the threshold of contagion incidence to decide which suburban town to confine should be lowered to 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which is roughly twice the national average.
Saying that “shortcuts are not valid,” Illa told reporters: ”I don't want to hide that very tough, complicated weeks are ahead of us, but we are going to succeed if we do what we need to do."
The Spanish Health Ministry said Friday that the Madrid region had reported 1,001 confirmed infections in 24 hours, about one-fourth of the daily nationwide total for new cases. The community of Aragon in northeastern Spain had the next highest number after Madrid.
The limitations in Madrid have been protested by locals who claim that they are being targeted because they live in poor neighborhoods with denser population and worse infrastructure than more affluent areas, and where more people use public transportation to get to work.
Politicians at both national and regional levels have been at odds over the response since the first day of the pandemic, although they recently agreed to negotiate a coordinated response to the worrying outbreaks in Madrid. The truce lasted less than a week, with Friday’s competing press conferences conveying a message of disagreement and political blame-exchange.
Antonio Zapatero, deputy health chief of the Madrid region, said that he wanted to continue working with the central government to contain the outbreaks but that more time was needed to see if the current restrictions are having any effect.
“What we do, we do it based on technical criteria,” Zapatero said, adding that “If decisions need to be taken, Madrid will take them.”
Both officials, Zapatero and Illa, agreed on recommending all citizens stay at home as much as possible, even for work, and limiting trips out to those that are really necessary.
In the streets of one of the newly affected neighborhoods, García Noblejas, residents reacted with confusion.
“I don’t think the measures are sufficient. It should be done all over, the virus has spread everywhere," said Eneda Rodríguez, a 62-year-old cook.
Cecilia Quilomba, 52, who works as a cleaner, agreed. “We should not think selfishly and close everything so that this ends."
But José Antonio Jiménez, a 48-year-old musician said that rather than being subjected to limitations, “what people need to do is to take precautions at all times, be it here or other areas of Madrid.”
Spain is fighting a cumulative coronavirus caseload over 700,000 with the worry focusing in Madrid and its surrounding region, where more than one third of the new infections are happening. The total death toll since the start of the pandemic reached 31,232 on Friday. Because of limited testing and missed cases, among other factors, the figures don’t capture the true extent of the damage wrought by the virus.
Similarly to the UK, Spain struggled earlier this year to implement an effective “find, test, trace, isolate and support system” before the return to activity following the first wave of the pandemic, a team of experts who compared the strategies of rolling back lockdowns in nine Asian and European countries found in an article published this week in the medical journal The Lancet.
Iain Sullivan and Alicia León contributed to this report.