MADRID – Spain’s government declared a state of emergency in Madrid on Friday, wresting control of efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 from local authorities in a region that is experiencing one of Europe’s most significant coronavirus outbreaks.
The step, which took immediate effect and lasts for two weeks, forced Madrid authorities to restore restrictions on travel that had been introduced by the national government but were struck down the previous day by a Madrid court ruling.
That successful legal challenge by Madrid officials was part of a long quarrel between the country’s main political parties over their coronavirus response. Those differences, and the changing rules, have often dismayed and confused local residents.
“Well, it is all very nauseating,” Vicente de la Torre, a 22-year-old Madrid mechanic, told The Associated Press. “We have no idea what we should do or what we shouldn’t do.”
The government announced the state of emergency after a hastily arranged Cabinet meeting in the wake of the court ruling. Health Minister Salvador Illa said the previous measures would come back into force and that only the legal framework for them was changing.
He told a press conference it was “undeniable” that there is community transmission in the Madrid region, not just isolated outbreaks, at a crucial juncture as winter approaches and respiratory problems increase.
“Action is needed, and today we couldn’t just stand by and do nothing,” Illa said. “It’s very important that this doesn’t spread to the rest of the country.”
The Madrid region’s 14-day infection rate of 563 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents is more than twice Spain’s national average of 256 and five times the European average rate of 113 for the week ending Sept. 27.