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Spanish children brave Europe's tightest virus lockdown rules

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Madrid (AFP)

For Antonia and many other parents in Spain, the country's strict coronavirus lockdown -- which does not allow children to leave home at all -- is proving a serious challenge as it drags on.

"This is a nightmare not being able to leave home, having the children at home, that they can't even run," the 39-year-old teacher told AFP.

She has been looking after her four daughters, aged three to eight at a Madrid apartment without a balcony while her husband is at work at a hospital, since March 14 when Spain imposed the strictest lockdown in Europe.

People can only venture outside to go to work if doing so from home is not possible, buy food and medicine, seek medical care or briefly walk their dog.

While some other European nations allow children outside to play in the company of their parents, Spain makes no such allowances.

"Every time I see a dog pass by, I go crazy," Antonia said, reflecting a widely shared frustration among parents with the rules which allow dogs out but not children.

Inmaculada Paredes, a 47-year-old engineer, said she was having trouble sleeping while her seven-year-old son Alvaro "cries more easily" lately.

"Alvaro tells us: 'I think it isn't fair, you adults can go out and us children no!. And it's true," added Paredes, who has another young boy.

- 'Sacrifice' -

The lockdown measures are scheduled to last until at least April 25 and the government has so far rejected calls to ease the restrictions on daily life before then, even though the rates of infections and deaths from the virus have slowed.

"There are groups which we realise have made a huge sacrifice, such as children for example," Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, leader of the hard left party Podemos which governs in coalition with the Socialists, said Wednesday he was "lucky" that his three children could play in the garden of his home near Madrid.

"I am conscious that millions of families are looking after their children in their apartments of 40, 40, 60 square metres," added Iglesias who came under fire when it emerged two years ago that he had acquired a luxury chalet with a swimming pool with his partner, Equality Minister Irene Montero.

As the lockdown has dragged on, calls for children to be given more freedom have intensified.

"They are one of the most vulnerable populations during this prolonged confinement," said Andres Conde of the Spanish branch of Save the Children, adding the month-long lockdown has already had an impact of children's "physical and psychological health".

The charity is calling for children to be allowed out for one hour each day near their homes as is the case in France and Belgium.

The government has asked the national association of pediatricians for its advice.

"As long as the authorities maintain the lockdown, children must respect it like the rest of the population," said the association's president, Maria Jose Mellado.

- Obesity risk -

Healthcare professionals warn the lockdown is putting children at risk for obesity, anxiety and attention deficit disorders.

"Little physical activity and an unusual situation could lead children to seek escapism through food," said Noemi Cuenca, a nutrition professor at the Open University of Catalonia.

To try to help make the lockdown easier, the government and NGOs have published tips on how to maintain health and get along while staying indoors all the time.

Italy, the country in Europe with the most COVID-19 deaths, followed by Spain, allows a parent to take their children for a walk close to home.

"It is desirable for everyone, from a psychological and physical point of view, to let us go for a walk like in other countries," said Paredes, the mother of two boys.

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