Uncertainty in Madrid as court nixes partial virus lockdown

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A Madrid Emergency Service (SUMMA) health worker checks the temperature of a man prior to a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. About 5.2 million people in Spain, including nearly 4.8 million residents in or around Madrid, are under restrictions on movement due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID – A Madrid court on Thursday struck down a national government order that imposed a partial lockdown in the Spanish capital and its suburbs, siding with regional officials who had resisted stricter measures against one of Europe’s most worrying virus clusters.

The judges said that travel restrictions in and out of the cities and other limitations might be necessary to fight the spread of the virus, but that under the current legal form they were violating residents' “fundamental rights.”

Thursday’s decision meant that police won’t be able to fine people for leaving their municipalities without a justification. It also left 4.8 million residents in Madrid and nine suburban towns wondering whether it was appropriate to go away on a long weekend extended by Monday’s national day celebration.

Madrid's regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, had appealed the national restrictions but asked for people to stay put while waiting for a new set of measures that she wanted to negotiate with central authorities and announce as early as Friday.

Ayuso, who has argued that milder measures were already flattening the region's sharp infection curve, said she wanted "the economy not to sink while we are fighting the virus."

Not affected by the ruling were a six-person cap on gatherings and limits to restaurant, bar and shop capacity and opening hours.

Madrid has been at the center of a political impasse between Spain's national and regional authorities that has irked many people, who see more partisan strategy taking place than real action against the pandemic. The two sides were meeting later Thursday.

The region's 14-day infection rate of 563 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents is more than twice Spain’s national average and five times the European average of 113 for the week ending Sept. 27.