Madrid coronavirus

A waiter disinfects a table in downtown Madrid, Spain, Wednesday. Madrid is leading the resurgence of the virus in Spain and Europe
Spain's government has ordered tough new travel restrictions in Madrid to slow infections at the centre of the country's second wave - but local authorities are resisting the plan.

The new rules would see the city's borders closed to non-essential travel, with parks and playgrounds shut, gatherings limited to six people and bars and restaurants ordered to close at 11pm.

The measures ordered by the Spanish health ministry come as Madrid suffers one of the highest infection rates of any region in Europe, putting pressure on hospitals where more than 40 per cent of Madrid's ICU beds are filled by Covid-19 patients.

Comment: Can we trust the claim that Madrid's hospitals are nearly half full with coronavirus patients? Because we know the tests aren't accurate, the symptoms of coronavirus are very similar to flu and the authorities have been wrongly labeling a variety of admissions as coronavirus, and previous claims that hospitals were 'overwhelmed' wasn't true, the majority were empty.

Also, isn't it possible that, as happened during the nationwide lockdowns, coronavirus is over represented because people with other conditions are avoiding going to - or simply told to not attend - hospital over unfounded fears of overwhelming the system? And, in turn, risking their lives by not doing so?

But regional leaders are opposing the measures after weeks of wrangling between Spain's left-wing government and Madrid's right-wing authorities.

madrid covid

A shoe shiner brushes a client's shoes in downtown Madrid on Wednesday. Regional health chief Alba Vergés said that Catalonia had decided to follow its own plan, which she described as more ambitious than the national guidelines designed with Madrid in mind
'You cannot lock down everybody,' Madrid leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso told Spanish radio today, adding: 'I'm sure the Madrid plan is the best: quick tests, quarantines and life goes on.'

Ayuso is preparing to take the Spanish government to court but said today that Madrid is 'not in rebellion' and would obey the rules until they are overturned.

'The decision is not valid legally,' Madrid health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero repeatedly told a news conference last night.

Accusing the Spanish government of ignoring signs that the outbreak is stabilising, Escudero insisted that 'the situation is controlled'.

'We have always anticipated the hospital capacity to contain this pandemic, and we've had several days for which the balance between discharges and admissions is favorable,' he said. 'The government is in a hurry to lock Madrid down.'

Spain's health ministry announced last night it was overriding regional authorities and said the new rules would come into effect 48 hours after an official order is published, which has not yet happened.

'Madrid's health is Spain's health. Madrid is special,' Spanish health minister Salvador Illa said as he announced the new regulations.

The national standards have been approved by 13 of Spain's 19 regions and autonomous cities but Madrid's refusal is a setback for PM Pedro Sanchez's coalition, which is pushing for a stricter response in the capital.
madrid covid

Madrid Emergency Service (SUMMA) health workers conduct rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid on Tuesday
Under the new metrics, all large cities are subject to new curbs if they record a two-week infection rate above 500 cases per 100,000 residents, have ICU occupancy rates above 35 per cent, and if more than 10 per cent tests come back positive.

Comment: Imagine if countries took the same action over the seasonal flu, that is provably more harmful.

In the Madrid region, the current figures are an infection rate of 735 per 100,000, an ICU occupancy rate of 42 per cent and a positivity rate of 20 per cent.

As well as the city of Madrid, nine surrounding areas with at least 100,000 inhabitants each would currently meet the Spanish government's threshold.

People would be allowed to cross the city boundaries for work, school, doctors' visits or shopping, but not for leisure.

Comment: Can the coronavirus virus distinguish the difference between work and leisure?

But Madrid's resistance sets the scene for a political battle which could be dragged into the courts.

Regional president Ayuso said today that 'Madrid is not in rebellion, it will comply with all orders but we will go to court', according to RTVE.

The deadlock has exposed some of the pitfalls of the country´s highly decentralized political system, irritating many Spaniards and undermining their trust in politicians' handling of a worrying surge in virus cases more than six months after the pandemic first overwhelmed Spain.

Madrid is leading the resurgence of the virus in Spain and Europe. The region's infection rate is 2.5 times higher than the national average of 294 cases and seven times higher the average rate in Europe, which is 94 per 100,000 residents.

Sanchez's government wants to see tougher action in Madrid that does not only target working-class neighborhoods, as do existing restrictions in the parts of the city with the highest contagion rates.

But Madrid's centre-right government argues that the citywide lockdown would further damage the economy after months of standstill.

In addition to Madrid, officials from three other regions led by conservative and center-right parties and from the separatist-ruled northeastern Catalonia rejected the government's document at a meeting Wednesday.

Regional health chief Alba Vergés said that Catalonia had decided to follow its own plan, which she described as more ambitious than the national guidelines designed with Madrid in mind.

'This has turned into a circus. We have said that at this stage there needs to be action with responsibility and that they need to find agreements that don't endanger public health,' Vergés said. 'We have been discussing a document that collides with the measures that we are already carrying out.'

Given that 13 regions ended up backing the guidelines, Illa announced at a press conference that the plan would be implemented nationally regardless of opposition.

'When one goes to the doctor, one expects to be told the truth: the situation in Madrid is tough,' Illa said, stressing that four of every 10 infections reported in Spain on Wednesday were in the Spanish capital. 'We are facing very tough weeks,' he added.

'The situation in Madrid is complex and worrying,' Illa told reporters, saying that of 11,016 new cases diagnosed in Spain over the past 24 hours, nearly 44 percent were in the Madrid region.

'That's why we have agreed to adopt these measures but we're aware that hard weeks lie ahead,' he said after talks with Spain's 17 autonomous regions who are responsible for public healthcare and managing the pandemic.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases have risen steadily nationwide since a state of emergency declared over the pandemic ended in late June.

Sanchez, facing some criticism for hoarding too much power, handed over control of the pandemic to regional governments.

In theory, the move gave regional officials the ability to fine-tune their responses to new outbreaks according to local conditions, but results from the change have varied.

While the Aragon and Galicia regions in the north managed to ease their summer infection curves and the Asturias region has so far avoided major case clusters, Madrid has accounted for one-third of the new cases reported daily in the past few weeks.

As the number of confirmed cases multiplied there, regional officials handed the blame back to the central government, demanding help and national guidelines.

Much of the conflict has to do with a decades-long political fight for control of the Madrid region, a conservative stronghold that for more than two decades has provided a showcase for the policies of the conservative Popular Party.

The new restrictions include having to justify trips in and out of the cities, capping gatherings at six people, closing playgrounds and limiting customers and opening times at shops and restaurants.

Over 1 million people already live under such measures, and many expressed doubt Wednesday about how effective they are.