MADRID: Spain‘s Socialist-led government invoked a state of emergency on Friday to impose a partial lockdown for several million people in Madrid, one of Europe’s worst Covid-19 hotspots, after a court had struck down the measures.
The move escalates a standoff between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government and the conservative-led Madrid regional chief who believes the curbs are illegal, excessive and disastrous for the local economy.
Many of the 3.8 million people affected in the capital city and nine satellite towns were bemused and cars continued to pour out for a holiday weekend.
“I feel bad because I don’t know how to act, what to do, if I’m doing things right or wrong, and I feel totally misruled by our politicians who are just not up to the job,” said 64-year-old retiree Jesus Doria.
Following a Health Ministry order, Madrid authorities last week reluctantly barred all non-essential travel in and out of the city and other nearby towns. The region had 723 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks to Oct. 8, according to the World Health Organization, making it Europe’s second densest cluster after Andorra.
‘WHAT DO WE DO NOW?’
But instead of a blanket restriction, the Madrid region chief Isabel Diaz Ayuso wants tailored restrictions in different neighbourhoods according to local contagion levels.
A Madrid court sided with her on Thursday, effectively suspending the restrictions until the government responded with its two-week emergency order.
“We had an alternative plan we have been defending until the last moment, but it has not been possible, which is a pity. The state of emergency was totally avoidable,” Madrid region spokesman Ignacio Aguado told reporters.
“As usual, it’s the citizens who face the consequences, they don’t know if they can go on vacation,” he added as Spaniards prepared for a long holiday weekend to mark Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492.
It was unclear when the restrictions enforced by the state of emergency would come in. TV footage showed lines of cars on the main highways out of Madrid on Friday afternoon for what is usually one of the busiest weekends for domestic tourism.
“I feel a little disconcerted and surprised and now everyone is saying, ‘I’m going away for the weekend, no I’m not, what do we do now?’,” said Esther, 45, in Madrid.