Madrid to obey new virus rules while fighting them in court

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People queue for a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Madrid and its suburbs are preparing to enter a soft lockdown that restricts trips and out of the Spanish capital following a weeks-long political turf fight over Europe's latest infection hot spot. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

MADRID – Madrid and its suburbs prepared Thursday to enter a soft lockdown that restricts trips in and out of the Spanish capital following a weeks-long political turf war that experts say has prevented an effective response to the coronavirus in Europe's latest infection hot spot.

Regional President Isabel Díaz Ayuso said she would implement new national health regulations that impose restrictions on movement, business and social activity in large Spanish cities with high infection rates while Madrid also mounts a legal challenge to the national government order requiring the measures.

The Spanish Health Ministry's new standards give the country's 19 regions two days to cap social gatherings at a maximum of six people and limit shop and restaurant hours in large cities that have recorded a 2-week infection rate of at least 500 cases per 100,000 residents. The regulations also mandate restrictions on entering and leaving such cities.

Nationwide, only Madrid and nine of its suburban towns met the criteria as of Thursday, with a 2-week regional infection rate of 695 cases per 100,000 people, Europe's highest. The publication of the Health Ministry standards in Spain's official gazette Thursday means the regional government needs to issue by Friday evening its own orders laying out specific measures and their effective date.

The center-right regional government has resisted the stricter curbs in the city of 3.3 million and its suburbs due to concerns about damaging the economy.

Speaking at the regional assembly, Díaz Ayuso accused Spain’s left-wing coalition government of targeting Madrid with an “arbitrary” order for political reasons and disregarding her efforts to contain the second wave of the virus.

“This government is not in rebellion,” Díaz Ayuso said, adding that she would challenge the new regulations in court “to defend the legitimate interests of the people of Madrid so that the measures conform to reality, so they are objective and fair.”

Díaz Ayuso said her legal challenge was intended to avoid a “return to the queues of hunger and unemployment” from earlier in the pandemic that she blamed on the national government led by Socialist Pedro Sánchez.