Pedro Sánchez willing to reactivate emergency powers used during first lockdown
Spain’s government said it was ready to step up measures to try to bring the coronavirus pandemic in Madrid under control, even as new restrictions came into force in much of the city in response to a surge in infections.
With the highest rate of contagion in Europe, Madrid’s regional administration has introduced mobility controls on some 850,000 inhabitants — largely in poor southern districts — who account for 13 per cent of the region’s population but 24 per cent of coronavirus infections.
“The Spanish government hopes that these initial measures agreed by the Madrid region will have the desired effect,” Pedro Sánchez, prime minister, said after an emergency meeting with Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the head of the regional government. “But we are also ready to consider other scenarios . . . We are in a second wave: it is less lethal, less fast, but still very dangerous.”
Many epidemiologists have expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of Madrid’s new measures, which took effect on Monday. The restrictions are intended to prevent people from entering or leaving the affected areas, except for work, education or similar reasons. But they do little to rein in infections elsewhere in the region — which account for three-quarters of its cases — beyond reducing the maximum size of permitted gatherings from 10 to six.
Madrid has now logged almost 750 registered cases per 100,000 of population over the past two weeks — a total of almost 50,000 infections. That is over twice the rate for Spain as a whole, and compares with levels of 192 in France, 71 in the UK and 26 in Germany.
In all the districts where the new measures have taken force, the rate is above 1,000 per 100,000. Mr Sánchez has offered to reactivate the emergency powers used during Spain’s tough lockdown if requested by Madrid or other regions — but Ms Díaz Ayuso has resisted taking any such step, because of its impact on the economy.
“I will do whatever is necessary,” said Ms Díaz Ayuso. “But not a state of alert [the legal order granting emergency powers] or a lockdown: that would be deadly for our community.” Instead she said Madrid would request more resources — such as military personnel to help with the health effort, as well as police and civil guards — issues that a new joint committee set up by the regional and national administrations was due to consider immediately. Mr Sánchez has already put around 1,000 military officials at the disposal of the regions to help with their struggling efforts to track and trace the virus.
The Madrid chief acknowledged that her region did not have enough doctors, but added that this was a long-term problem shared with the rest of Spain. The Madrid and national governments have long traded recriminations, with the centre-right Ms Díaz Ayuso calling for more effective leadership from Mr Sánchez’s Socialist-led government even as his administration has argued that the primary responsibility lies with the regional authority, which has many more health resources.
But at Monday’s meeting, which came only after weeks of the pace of infections growing in Madrid, the two sides pledged to work together. “We are here to help,” said Mr Sánchez. “Not to lecture or to judge.” However, he noted the higher rate of infection in Madrid compared to Spain as a whole, while adding that the rate of occupancy of intensive-care beds in the region was three times higher than the national average.
Ms Díaz Ayuso said Madrid had been particularly badly hit because of its population density, its style of life and its role as a transport and business hub, arguing that it could not be compared with any other region in Spain.