Spain's coronavirus rate triples in three weeks after lockdown easing
The prevalence of Covid-19 in Spain has risen three-fold over the last three weeks as authorities struggle to contain a rash of fresh clusters, mainly in the Catalonia and Aragon regions, Health Ministry data showed this week.
After registering thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths per day during an early April peak, Spain succeeded in slowing the number of new infections to a trickle.
But since restrictions on movement were lifted and Spaniards relaxed back into daily life, some 201 new clusters have appeared, with heavy concentrations in and around the Catalan cities of Barcelona and Lleida.
The occurrence of the novel coronavirus has jumped from eight cases per 100,000 inhabitants at the end of June, when the country's state of emergency ended, to 27 per 100,000, deputy health emergency chief Maria Sierra told a news conference on Monday.
Over the weekend 4,581 new cases were recorded, bringing the total to 264,836, she added. More than 28,000 people have died.
"Where measures have been relaxed is where these clusters appear," Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
"We're talking about gatherings of extended family and spaces associated with nightlife."
Describing the situation in Catalonia as concerning, he appealed to residents to re-spect health measures.
On Friday the Catalan regional government urged some four million people, including residents of Spain's second largest city Barcelona, to stay at home and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. It also told bars and restaurants to reduce their capacity.
That was in addition to ordering the mandatory confinement of at least 160,000 people around Lleida.
To try to prevent similar outbreaks, most Spanish regions have made face masks compulsory even when social-distancing can be guaranteed, going further than a national directive.
On Tuesday, authorities in Barcelona cut the number of people allowed on to the city's beaches to 32,000 from 38,000, after crowds flocked to the sea at the week-end despite advice to stay home to curb a local rise in coronavirus infections.
Barcelona, Spain's second largest city and one of Europe's most visited destinations, would typically have around 40,000 people on its ten beaches at this time of year, a city spokeswoman said.
However, it is at the heart of an increase in coronavirus cases that followed the end of Spain's national state of emergency one month ago.
In response, local and regional authorities have imposed a string of restrictions, to the fury of some businesses which have been told to close their doors again, including cinemas, nightclubs and gyms in Barcelona.
"Why do we have to be closed?", said Oscar Simon, the head of a martial arts school, speaking at a protest by sports centre managers and workers.
"We cannot cope with this crisis, three more months closed will send us to our death," Mr Simon said, stressing he had spent a lot of money in protective equipment that guaranteed health standards.
Other coastal Barcelona suburbs will apply similar restrictions on beaches' capacity.
Authorities have set up entry points at Barcelona's beaches, enhanced police presence and installed 18 video sensors that estimate the available surface remaining needed to guarantee social distancing.
When capacity goes over 80% at a beach, access is closed and people encouraged to go elsewhere. (Reuters)