On October 21, Spain became the first western European country to record over one million confirmed cases of coronavirus. The death toll stood at 34,366. Spain is the sixth nation worldwide to report a million cases after the US, India, Brazil, Russia and Argentina.
In mid-October, Spain’s health minister Salvador Illa said Ministers were considering imposing a temporary nationwide curfew, and then on October 25, the regional government imposed an 11.00pm to 6.00am curfew on the city of Granada and 30 surrounding municipalities, plus Teba in the province of Málaga. Andalucía’s Health Minister Jesús Aguirre warned curfews could be imposed elsewhere if the situation demanded such action.
At the same time, further measures were introduced in Granada and three other provinces – Sevilla, Jaen and Córdoba – following an “exponential” rise in infections. Bars must limit capacity to 50 per cent of maximum both inside and outside, and must close at 10pm. It also became mandatory throughout Andalucía to wear face masks when exercising in the proximity of others, and for those in bars and restaurants who are not actually eating or drinking.
The coronavirus crisis in recent weeks was dominated by a row between the Government and the Madrid region which finally ended with a local state of emergency being declared on October 10, despite opposition from local politicians. Prior to this, the infection rate in the region was running at twice Spain’s national average and five times the European rate.
The 4.8 million residents around the capital were subjected to a two week ban on all non-essential journeys into and out of the capital and nine of its suburbs. Shops were ordered to close by 10pm and restaurants at 11pm with both restricting occupancy to 50 per cent of capacity.
Madrid’s regional president, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said the restrictions were illegal, excessive and disastrous for the economy, claiming that her own, more moderate measures were enough to fight the virus. On October 12, Spain’s National Day, protests against the lockdown blocked many of the city’s main roads, with similar demonstrations held in Sevilla and Barcelona.
Several other regions across Spain imposed varying restrictions during October as the number of coronavirus cases continued to mount. By the 20th of the month, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants had risen to 322.9, a new record for that data point since the health crisis began.
The long October weekend which included the National Day holiday brought a huge influx of domestic visitors to the south coast. Trains from Madrid to Málaga were almost fully booked at the end of the previous week.
The autumn break brought particular problems to Granada which reported an hotel occupation of 85 per cent. Police reported crowds in the city centre without face masks and ignoring social distancing, as well as receiving around 300 calls complaining about outdoor drinking parties known as botellónes. On October 13, Granada University was ordered to suspend all face-to-face teaching for two weeks after 150 positive tests were recorded in seven days.
Andalucía was placed in the third level of a new four-tier system proposed by the Government on October 15. While the alert system would apply nationally, regional governments would still able to impose mandatory confinements in their areas.
The system uses several criteria to assess risk levels in municipalities of more than 5,000 residents, with the overall figure determining whether each region is in at extreme, high, moderate or low risk. At the time of the system’s proposal, Aragón, Castille y León, Madrid, La Rioja and Ceuta were placed in the extreme risk category.
A high risk was listed for Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluña, Murcia, Navarre, the Basque Country and Melilla, while joining Andalucía in the moderate risk group were Asturias, the Balearic and Canary islands, Valencia and Extremadura. Cantabria and Galicia were shown as low risk, but it was emphasised that no region is fully out of danger.
In Andalucía, the authorities are reported to have been cracking down on those who are ordered to self isolate. Previously, checks were made randomly on individuals considered to be at special risk, but quarantine checks have recently become more widespread. Ignoring the order to quarantine can attract a fine ranging from €100 for a minor infringement, to €60,000 for a serious offence.
Meanwhile, Spain has said it will not ask for its €70 million loan promised from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund, preferring instead to ask only for the €72.7 million available as non-repayable grants. The International Monetary Fund has forecast that the economy in Spain will shrink more than in other countries in 2020, and that the country is headed for record deficit and debt levels. Portugal and Italy have already taken a similar stance to Spain to avoid running up higher debts.