Madrid adopts virus restrictions exposing poor-rich divide

MADRID (AP) — Police in the Spanish capital and its surrounding towns yesterday stopped people coming in and out of some working-class neighbourhoods that have been partially locked down to stem Europe’s fastest coronavirus spread.

The police controls will only relay information on the restrictions for the first two days. Enforcement of stay-in orders will be mandatory starting from tomorrow and those not justifying their trips for work, study or medical reasons will face fines, regional authorities said.

The new heightened restrictions, including occupancy limits in shops and restaurants and closed parks, affect some 860,000 residents. They have been met with protests from people who think authorities are stigmatising the poor.

The targetted areas have a 14-day rate of transmission above 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, some of the highest in Europe. They are also densely populated with less-affluent residents who cram into small apartments and use public transportation to work in manual jobs in other areas of the city.

Some people online shared photos of crammed rush-hour subway trains, complaining that the problem was not in the suburbs but due to the lack of sufficient public transport.

In the hard-hit area of Vallecas, waiter Raul Hernández said the coffee-shop expected less business.

“Yesterday afternoon the change started to be seen and today we are not doing anything,” he said. “People are accepting it well, they understand it but they are afraid.”

Hundreds took their grievances to the streets last Sunday, clapping in unison while shouting for Madrid Regional President Isabel Díaz Ayuso to step down. The protesters also called for the restrictions to be extended to all the city, expressing anger at authorities for acting late and targetting the poorest areas while not doing enough to reinforce the region’s health centres with more staff.

The city’s rate of infection — 682.57 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in two weeks — is nearly three times the national average of 267.82.

Spain is struggling to contain a second wave of the virus, which has killed at least 30,000 people according to the country’s Health Ministry.