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September 26, 2020

Madrid extends lockdown but not enough for govt


September 26, 2020

MADRID: Madrid’s regional government expanded the number of areas under partial lockdown on Friday in a move now affecting a million people, but ignored a central government plea for restrictions across the capital.

The city and the surrounding region is at the epicentre of a second wave of coronavirus that is sweeping Spain, which has claimed more than 31,000 lives and infected over 700,000 in the highest infection rate in the European Union.

From Monday, another 167,000 people will be confined to their neighbourhoods and unable to leave except for work, school or medical reasons although they will be able to move freely within their own areas.

Antonio Zapatero, Madrid’s deputy health chief, urged all of the region’s 6.6 million residents “to avoid unnecessary movement” as the authorities race to slow the spread of the virus in Spain’s worst-hit region.

Such measures have already been imposed on another 850,000 people since Monday, with Zapatero saying the authorities had targeted areas with an incidence of 1,000 cases per 100,00 people. But the measures fell short of a demand by the central government, which had urged the region to impose city-wide restrictions.

Speaking at the same time as Zapatero in a separate news conference, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the government had “proposed extending (the restrictions) to the whole of the city of Madrid, as well as surrounding areas with more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants”.

He said the region, where hospitals are already overrun with coronavirus cases, should prepare for some “hard weeks” ahead. Since the central government ended its state of emergency on June 21, responsibility for public healthcare and managing the pandemic has been transferred to Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.

Over the past week, Spain has registered the highest number of new cases within the EU with a rate of nearly 300 per 100,000 inhabitants -- but in the Madrid region, the figure is currently more than 700 per 100,000.

With case numbers soaring, the Madrid region said it would ask the central government for “urgent military logistical support” to “carry out tests and basic disinfection tasks” in the worst-hit areas.

The announcement on Friday came a day after the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) expressed “high concern” over the rising death rates in several European countries, including Spain.

Health ministry figures show one in four of the region’s hospital beds, and 40 percent of those in intensive care, are taken up by patients with Covid-19.

Speaking to AFPTV, Diana Llorens, who works at the intensive care unit at Madrid’s Ramon y Cajal hospital, said the situation had left medics feeling “frustrated, jaded, tired and afraid of going back to what we suffered through in March: stressful, endless shifts”.

A union representing doctors in the public healthcare system has called for a strike from Monday over the shortages in staff numbers.Madrid’s health authority said new rules largely banning tens of thousands from leaving their districts -- in addition to the 850,000 already living under similar restrictions -- would be enforced from Monday.

New spikes are springing up across the continent, with Poland and France the latest to register record figures -- France’s daily cases soared past 16,000 for the first time in a stark indicator of the virus’s resurgence.

Governments are fighting back with tougher restrictions. Russia’s capital has ordered vulnerable residents to stay at home and France has forced restaurants, bars and other venues in major cities to shorten their hours or close entirely in a move that has sparked widespread frustration.

“I am angry because there was no consultation,” said Michele Rubirola, mayor of the southern city of Marseille, which is bearing the brunt of the new outbreak and the new restrictions. Meanwhile, two million Covid-19 fatalities are “very likely” without relentless global action to combat the disease, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

As the one million death toll looms in a pandemic that has surged around the planet, the WHO said the prospect of another million deaths was not unimaginable, if countries and individuals do not come together to tackle the crisis.

“One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference, when asked if it was unthinkable that two million people could die in the pandemic.

But he added: “Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number? “If we don’t take those actions... yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly much higher. “Unless we do it all, the numbers you speak about are not only imaginable but unfortunately, and sadly, very likely.”

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 984,068 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Friday.

Nearly 32.3 million cases of the virus have been registered. Ryan reflected on the challenges ahead in funding, producing and distributing any eventual vaccines against Covid-19. “If we look at losing a million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting a vaccine out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for for everyone involved,” he said.