Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Spain declares Madrid emergency as EU sharpens virus fight

The Spanish government declared a state of emergency for the Madrid region as Europe's leaders step up efforts to contain an unrelenting surge in coronavirus cases across the continent.



Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's government made the decision at a special cabinet meeting on Friday as the premier struggles to impose his authority on regional officials who have resisted his calls for restrictions on movement. The move gives the Spanish leader extraordinary powers to order new constraints on life in the capital where efforts to control a surge in infections have been complicated by the standoff.

"The president of the region of Madrid has decided not to do anything," Health Minister Salvador Illa said at a press conference. "We can sit with our arms crossed, or we can stop the virus."

Tensions are rising around Europe as numerous countries post record increases in infections. Unlike the initial wave of the pandemic, national leaders are loath to impose stringent lockdowns and are pushing local administrations to tighten curbs, but even those are facing increasing resistance.

Sanchez and Madrid regional President Isabel Diaz Ayuso held two crisis calls on Thursday and another on Friday to try to agree on a common policy, after a Madrid court said existing restrictions weren't legal. After the national government provided three options, Ayuso -- a member of the main opposition party to Sanchez's Socialists -- requested time to consider them.

Madrid's health service "has a serious risk of being overwhelmed, and we haven't reached winter yet," Illa said, adding that about 70% of the confirmed infections in Madrid have occurred since the start of July.

"Measures must be taken to protect to the health of people in Madrid and to avoid the levels of infections spreading to the rest of Spain," he said.

The Madrid region recorded about 40% of Spain's new infections on Thursday, while 40% of local intensive care beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients -- far ahead of the national average of 18%.

Among other reasons, the declaration of the state of emergency serves to block an outflow of people from Madrid for the long-weekend -- Monday is a bank holiday in Spain. The move would likely further fray already strained nerves among residents.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed measures with 11 big-city officials after new Covid-19 cases exceeded 4,000 for the second day in a row -- levels not seen since April. Berlin has now become a risk area, and the capital's residents face travel restrictions within Germany.

Ralph Brinkhaus, the leader of Merkel's caucus in the Bundestag, said Friday he's worried that the worsening situation in Berlin will mean that lawmakers won't be able to return for parliament's next session at the end of October.

Europe's largest economy was quick to react to the initial phase, but "we are again in a situation in which we must be fast in order to still keep control of the situation," Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller told reporters before the call with Merkel. "It would be dramatic for the German economy, but also for social reasons not to see one another for months."

In Austria, national leaders and rival local politicians are also at odds, a battle fueled by elections in Vienna on Sunday. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's government has implored Vienna to bring forward a curfew to 10 p.m. and draw on support from the federal police for contact tracing, deploring "chaos" under Mayor Michael Ludwig's watch.

The city's contagion rate is about double the national level, and Germany, Switzerland and other countries have issued travel warnings for the Austrian capital. The Social Democratic city hall blamed the federal government for easing curbs too early.

In the U.K, there's growing anger over the strategy of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, which is preparing to announce new restrictions for the worst-hit parts of the country beginning on Monday -- potentially including closing restaurants and bars.

France moved to place more cities on maximum alert after daily cases exceeded 18,000 for a second straight day. Authorities tightened curbs beyond Paris and Marseille, adding Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Grenoble from Saturday. Bars, casinos and exhibitions will close in the affected cities, while restaurants, cinemas and museums face stricter controls.

Published : October 10, 2020

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Rodrigo Orihuela · WORLD, EUROPE