Spain’s federal government has imposed new restrictions on more than three million people living in Madrid as the country tries to control the most serious second wave of Covid-19 infections in Europe.
From this weekend, people living in the Spain’s capital can travel outside their home districts for essential journeys only.
Bars and restaurants cannot serve after 10PM. A maximum of six people are permitted to meet in any setting.
The measures have been demanded by Spain’s federal government.
They also take effect in nine towns around Madrid.
The restrictions have been resisted by Madrid’s city authorities, which tried to use the courts to block their imposition. Madrid’s justice minister said it would cost the capital’s economy €8 billion and regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso wrote on Twitter: “Thanks for the chaos, [Prime Minister] Pedro Sánchez.”
Signs of the second wave of coronavirus infections now breaking over Spain can be seen at the emergency admission unit of the 12 de Octubre hospital, one of the biggest in Madrid.
Every hour ambulances arrive with new patients.
Some of the patients are helped into wheelchairs; others, already needing oxygen, have to be stretchered in by medical staff wearing full protective gear.
Italy and Austria seek to ease restrictions brought in to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The European Commission has urged EU countries to co-ordinate with each other to relax measures gradually.
An internal document sent by the Commission to EU governments said that even phased measures would “unavoidably lead to a corresponding increase in new cases”.
Lifting restrictions had to wait for the spread of the virus to be reduced for a significant period, it said, with enough capacity in intensive care units to cope with a second surge in cases and increased testing, along with mass antibody tests.
Garden centers, DIY stores and small stores can open but with strict rules on social distancing.
Spain has allowed some businesses to return to work, and Denmark is reopening schools for younger children. Poland has said it will gradually lift restrictions on its economy from April 12, probably starting with general stores.
Spain reported its lowest increase in infections since March 20 on April 14. There has been a 1.8% increase from April 13 to 3,045. The number of deaths has gone up by 567 to 18,056.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron extended France’s lockdown for another four weeks until May 11, as he said current restrictions had slowed the virus but not beaten it.
In Germany, the head of Robert Koch public health institute said that while there had been a slowdown it was too early to talk of a clear trend.
In Italy, where over 20,000 people have died in the pandemic, a limited number of shops and businesses have been allowed to reopen.
However, some of the worst-hit regions have decided to hold off.
Lombardy and other regions in the north will maintain their measures for longer.
After five weeks under lockdown, bookstores, stationery and clothes for babies and young children can reopen their doors but with strict rules on customer numbers and hygiene.
Businesses, stores and schools should lead the way, followed by limited reopening of restaurants, bars and cafes.
The reopening of bookshops and clothes stores for young children is a glimmer of hope, after Italy saw 20,465 fatalities, second only to the US in the number of deaths officially caused by Covid-19.
The daily toll of fatalities is now falling and the number of patients in intensive care has dropped for 10 days in a row to 3,260. However, Lombardy, where Italy’s outbreak began, still saw another 280 deaths declared on April 13, and officials have decided to allow children’s clothing shops to open, but not bookshops.
Also in the north, some of the worst-affected areas of Emilia-Romagna will stay locked down, while in Veneto officials are talking of a “soft lockdown”. Bookstores and clothing stores can open for two days a week, says Veneto governor Luca Zaia, and a ban on exercising more than 200m away from home has been lifted. But residents will still need to wear a mask and gloves if they go out.
Austria was one of the first European countries to follow neighboring Italy in imposing strict lockdown measures about a month ago, and the government says it has managed to flatten the curve of new infections. It has so far reported about 14,000 cases and 368 deaths.
Last week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz unveiled plans to lift restrictions gradually.
In an open letter to the country on April 11, Sebastian Kurz said he wanted to “come out of this crisis as quickly as possible and fight for every job in Austria”.
From April 14, stores under 400 sq m (4,300 sq ft) in size are allowed to reopen, along with hardware stores and garden centers.
However, it is also compulsory for people to wear a mask in supermarkets and pharmacies.
Economy Minister Margarete Schramböck told Austrian TV: “Experience in countries that have handled it well has taught us that we have to move gradually.”
Larger stores, shopping centers and hairdressers are due to reopen from May 1, while restaurants and hotels could reopen from mid-May if health conditions allow, Austria’s chancellor has said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the slowing down of infections in some European countries but warned against lifting restrictions too early, so as not to prompt “a deadly resurgence”.
The travel ban will affect all
non-EU nationals from visiting the bloc, except long-term residents, family
members of EU nationals and diplomats, cross-border and healthcare workers, and
people transporting goods.
Free travel is a cherished principle
within the European border-free Schengen area. However, in recent days many
countries have unilaterally imposed full or partial border shutdowns in a bid
to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
This prompted the EU Commission to
propose that the bloc act in a more unified fashion and restrict entry to the
union as a whole, at the urging of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The measures were agreed in a video-summit between EU leaders on March 17
and will now have to be implemented by member states.
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference: “They said they will immediately do
“This is good, so that we have a
unanimous and united approach [where] the external borders are concerned.”
The UK and the Republic of Ireland – which is part of the EU but not Schengen – will be invited to join the measure.
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