Madrid extends lockdown but not enough for central govt

Madrid (AFP) –


Madrid's regional government expanded the number of areas under partial lockdown 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.

- Madrid seeks military help -

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 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.