On the night of Saturday to Sunday, Spain lifted the state of health emergency in force since October, allowing its inhabitants to leave their region to change air or find relatives they did not have not seen for months. “I was too fed up with not being able to leave” the region of Madrid, “I felt frustrated, attached, without freedom”, confided, Saturday, Blanca Valls, 46-year-old jewelry designer, who will go on weekends. next end in Galicia, in the north-west of the country, for a birthday and she hopes to go to the beach soon. Argentina Enriquez, a 37-year-old Mexican student, is “impatient” to finally be able to go to the countryside on Friday and “have a barbecue with friends, play the guitar, go for a walk”. “To be together”, she launches with “a lot of emotion”.
A legal puzzle
Apart from Christmas when the restrictions were relaxed for a few days to allow family reunions, the Spaniards have not been able to leave their region since the start of the state of emergency at the end of October. Dissuaded by the explosion of cases following Christmas, the authorities had maintained the closures of regions for Holy Week, a fundamental family celebration in Spain. These closures were particularly badly experienced by the Spaniards, who were prevented from going to see their families in another region while the country remained open to foreign tourists.
Wind of freedom for the Spaniards, the lifting of the state of emergency is, on the other hand, a real headache for the regions, competent in the management of the health crisis. Because, since October, they had been able to impose curfews and block the entry or exit of their territory without needing the authorization of the justice, thanks to the limitation of fundamental freedoms allowed by this exceptional regime.
79,000 deaths and 3.5 million cases
If it is synonymous with lifting the curfew and opening up regions, the end of the state of emergency does not mean the end of restrictions in one of the countries most affected in Europe by the pandemic with nearly 79,000 deaths and 3.5 million cases. The 17 autonomous communities can, for example, always limit the opening hours or the capacity of bars, restaurants or shops. They can also request the reinstatement of a curfew or the closure of their territory but now need the approval of a court. And that’s where the puzzle begins. If the tourist archipelago of the Balearic Islands or the region of Valencia have obtained the green light to maintain a curfew, the Basque Country, one of the regions most affected by the pandemic, has seen its request for closure of the region and curfew rejected by justice.
Regions regret the end of the state of emergency
In early autumn, when the emergency regime was not yet in place, courts had overturned anti-covid measures taken by regions, creating confusion and leading the government of socialist Pedro Sanchez to decree the emergency state. In recent weeks, several regions had put pressure on the executive to extend the state of emergency, but the latter refused, arguing that it could not make an exceptional regime last indefinitely and highlighting improvement of the health situation and progress of the vaccination program.
In an attempt to coax them, the government has allowed regions to appeal to the Supreme Court, Spain’s highest court, if local courts challenge their measures. On a more political level, an extension of the state of emergency should have been approved by Parliament where the government is in the minority.
Warning from the authorities
While the weather is good, the authorities have warned the population, tired by more than a year of restrictions, against the risk of excessive relaxation. We must avoid having “a false perception (…) This does not mean the end of control measures” of the epidemic, insisted Thursday, the chief epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Simon. “People must understand that they must continue to apply the measures which depend on each of us”, he added because “nothing can be excluded in terms of the evolution of the pandemic”.
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