While other European cities remain tightly closed, the Spanish capital Madrid, already less restrictive than its counterparts, gave the population another hour of freedom last week.
Under the leadership of Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the region’s government postponed the curfew by one hour from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., from an earlier one that started at 10 p.m. Ask from the country’s Minister of Health Carolina Darias to have regions keep all restrictions as COVID-19 numbers remain high and hospitals are under pressure.
As everywhere in Spain, the cases are declining overall. Health ministry data on Thursday showed a 14-day COVID-19 incidence rate of 320 per 100,000 for the country but over 456 per 100,000 for Madrid, making it the second worst region after Melilla. That said, the country is slowly getting its vaccination program moving in the face of recent supply problems across Europe.
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According to El País, the infection rates in Madrid are worse than in many other European capitals such as Paris, Brussels and Rome and far higher than in Berlin. (See the map of the European Union dated February 10 below.) France has a curfew from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. while Germany and the UK are only now considering easing their own “hard locks”.
From what it looks like on the ground, a weekend in Madrid with spring-like weather has sparked demand for coveted outdoor tables. In the popular central La Latina district, there was a strong feeling the night before the ban, when exuberant crowds came to chat before the 10 p.m. curfew.
In the absence of tourism, restaurant and bar owners here are desperate to make up for lost revenue, while locals seem equally anxious to make up for livelihoods lost during the pandemic. It can be difficult to resist what you see in everyone else.
On a rare outing with friends, we walked an hour to find an empty outdoor table and eventually switched to indoor seating. Spain has had a strict mask policy since the summer, but no face covering is required when eating or drinking. At this particular restaurant, customer use of masks was sporadic.
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Only then did our group advocate taking unnecessary risks when we discussed the contrast between lively Madrid and the situation in the rest of Europe.
“We learn to live with death,” said Oscar Durán, a friend who works in the film industry here. “We had hundreds of people who died every day. Now it’s not as tragic or dramatic as the first wave. “
Madrid was one of the early epicentres of the first wave. At its peak, more than 900 people died in one day. As Durán explained, western countries like Spain are choosing to live with the virus and death, as opposed to countries in Asia or New Zealand which are taking tough measures and stopping the economy to save lives and root out infections.
“We’re just used to seeing a certain number of people die every day. Right now it seems okay that we have 300 deaths a day because it’s less than 900, ”Durán said. “Here in Madrid, people with many deaths argue about whether the bars should close at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. And that seems crazy to people in countries like Japan, Korea or New Zealand. For them, they want to avoid breakouts and death. ”
Daniel Sorando Ortín, professor in the Department of Applied Sociology at Complutense University of Madrid, admitted that the Spanish capital is an outlier. “First of all, this is where more people died, both in absolute and relative terms [as a proportion] of the population so it makes a difference. And that’s a region with fewer restrictions. And I think that the combination of many of these and very weak limitations helps people understand them [and] to live with it, ”Ortín told MarketWatch in an interview.
The region’s prime minister, Ayuso, who hails from the center-right People’s Party, is known for resisting stricter restrictions and almost came into conflict with the central government in October 2020. Their argument is that the economically hardest hit city must go.
Ortín recalled the car protests in Madrid’s affluent Salamanca district last May, during which participants railed against the government’s handling of the virus, which included one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. At the time, he said, Ayuso’s response was that maybe all of society shouldn’t stop for a small part at risk.
“It has a socio-economic axis because we know, for example, that poor people are more likely than wealthy people. That’s why wealthy people say, ‘Don’t put restrictions on us because we know how to deal with it,” he said and added this also applies to young people, especially those in more solid socio-economic conditions, who also feel less at risk and do not want to limit their activities.
If you listen to the government constantly telling you not to stop eating, drinking or enjoying life, it will be easier to understand why people “learned to live with deaths,” Ortín said, despite him in Madrid many have added financial problems and do not visit restaurants. Meanwhile, other regions of Spain are complying with much stricter COVID-19 restrictions.
“For example, I have a family in Aragon and La Rioja and the bars and restaurants are closed and you cannot enter the city of Zaragoza. So the approach is so different institutionally that, in my opinion, it must have an impact on people’s behavior, ”said Ortín.
As for the virus itself, Madrid will continue to grapple with increased transmission through new variants, such as the British one, which is now causing one in five infections across Spain, Dr. Vicente Soriano, director of the UNIR Medical Center in Madrid, clinician and professor of infectious diseases at UNIR Health Sciences School & Medical Center, told MarketWatch.
“The virus is becoming endemic, and it appears that it will stay for a while to become endemic like the other four human coronaviruses that cause winter cold. Reinfections of lesser severity are becoming the norm. It would take two to three years, ”said Soriano.
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