Spanish government blocks Madrid’s request for looser lockdown

(Updates with latest data from the Health ministry)

Madrid, May 8 (efe-epa).- The Spanish government has rejected a petition from local authorities in Madrid for the capital region to enter the Phase 1 of the country’s four-stage lockdown de-escalation process next week.

In total 13 regions and several territories concentrating more than 50 percent of the population will be allowed to enter the Phase 1, Spanish health minister Salvador Illa announced on Friday.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the conservative president of the Madrid region, filed the request on Thursday, prompting the resignation of the Spanish capital’s public health director general, Yolanda Fuentes, who was against the decision.

Sources from the regional executive told Efe that the Health ministry, which analyzes the healthcare and Covid-19 data of each province for the de-escalation process, “was inclined to wait until the region’s primary care detection systems were more robust before moving onto the next phase.”

Madrid authorities said they would aim to transition into Phase 1 on 18 May.

The news came after a videoconference between Spanish health minister Salvador Illa and regional Madrid health minister Enrique Ruiz Escudero.

Madrid is Spain’s worst-hit region in the pandemic so far with a total of 69,125 cases detected since the outbreak began. There have been 8,552 hospital deaths and 13,585 deaths overall in all settings when including suspected cases.

Some 2,806 coronavirus patients are currently receiving treatment in Madrid’s hospitals, 537 in ICU, according to data from the regional government.

The documentation presented on Thursday evening said there had been an 84 percent decrease in hospitalizations in the Madrid region and a 64 percent decrease in ICU admissions.

Ruiz Escudero acknowledged during a regional parliamentary session on Friday, however, that the ratio of hospital beds per capita did not meet the requirements set by the government.

The Health Ministry stipulates that, in order to pass to the first phase of the de-escalation process, which will permit the partial opening of outside restaurants areas and small gatherings of friends and family, a region must have two ICU beds and between 37 and 40 hospital beds available per 10,000 people.

Madrid should therefore have 1,400 ICU beds and 27,750 hospital beds available but it only has 1,350 and 17,000 respectively.

Quim Torra, the leader of the regional government in Catalonia, the second-worst hit region in Spain, requested that cities like Barcelona and Girona remain in Phase 0 of the transition, while less-populated provinces could proceed.

Madrid’s petition to move onto a less restrictive lockdown therefore drew criticism from other politicians.

The regional vice-president of Castile and Leon, Francisco Igea, said of the decision: “Never in my political life did I believe I would have to say that Torra has been more sensible.”

Like Catalonia, authorities in Castile and Leon, the largest region in Spain stretching across northwestern Spain, have recommended that some provinces remain in Phase 0 while others progress to Phase 1.

Spain’s health authorities said 299 people had died from coronavirus in the last 24 hours and that 1,095 new cases had been detected in the same period. It means the overall death toll sits at 26,299 while there have been 222,857 cases overall. Some 131,000 people have recovered from the virus.

Veterinary researchers in Barcelona on Friday said they detected a case of coronavirus in a cat, the first confirmed case of its kind in Spain and the sixth in the world.

The cat had died from heart issues.

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