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A spirit of celebration blew in Spain on Sunday, where residents were allowed to go out. The authorities have lifted the majority of restrictions, such as the state of emergency or the curfew.
Like a festive air in Spain. Since May 9, midnight, the Spaniards have finally been allowed to leave their region to get a change of scenery or find relatives they had not seen for months.
In most regions, the end of this exceptional regime at midnight Sunday, that is to say at the very end of the evening on Saturday, also meant the lifting of the curfew as in Barcelona (north-east) where shouts, applause and music marked this new found freedom.
“It looks like the New Year,” laughs Oriol Corbella, 28, out in the streets like hundreds of young people. “We find a little normality, freedom but we must keep in mind that the virus is still present,” he added.
In Madrid, Blanca Valls, 46-year-old jewelry designer, was impatient to go to Galicia (north-west) next weekend for a birthday and hoped to go to the beach soon.
“I was too sick of not being able to get out” of the Madrid region, “I felt frustrated, attached, without freedom,” she told AFP on Saturday.
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.
Not the end of restrictions
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.
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. Since October, they had been able to impose curfews and block entry or exit from their territory without needing the authorization of the courts, thanks to the limitation of fundamental freedoms permitted by this exceptional regime.
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.
The puzzle of regions
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 (north), one of the regions most affected by the country by the pandemic, has seen its request for closure of the region and curfew rejected by the courts.
In early fall, 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.
Several regions had put pressure in recent weeks 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 the 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.
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”.