Spain rejects virus confinement as most of Europe stays home

MADRID (AP) – While most of Europe kicked off 2021 with earlier curfews or stay-at-home orders, authorities in Spain insist the new coronavirus variant causing havoc elsewhere is not to blame for a sharp resurgence of cases and that the country can avoid a full lockdown even as its hospitals fill up.

The government has been tirelessly fending off drastic home confinement like the one that paralysed the economy for nearly three months in the spring of 2020, the last time Spain could claim victory over the stubborn rising curve of cases.

Infection rates ebbed last October but never completely flattened the surge from summer. Cases started climbing again before the end of the year.

In the past month, 14-day rates more than doubled, from 188 cases per 100,000 residents on December 10 to 522 per 100,000 on Thursday. Nearly 39,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday and over 35,000 on Thursday, some of the highest daily increases to date.

The surge is again threatening intensive care unit capacity and burdening exhausted medical workers.

Some facilities have already suspended elective surgery, and the eastern city of Valencia has reopened a makeshift hospital used last year.

Unlike Portugal, which went on a month-long lockdown yesterday and doubling fines for those who don’t wear masks, officials in Spain insist it will be enough to take short, highly localised measures that restrict social gatherings without affecting the whole economy.

A couple sit on a restaurant terrace in downtown Barcelona, Spain. PHOTO: AP