efe-epaBy Jake Threadgould Madrid

Officials in Madrid have 48 hours to implement a partial lockdown that will prevent residents leaving the city limits without justification and introduce tighter measures on social life, according to new criteria approved by the Spanish government on Thursday.

The capital and its outlying region have once again become the focal point of the pandemic in Spain with a two-week coronavirus incidence rate of 784 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, more than double the national average.

Madrid’s regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a member of the conservative Popular Party, said her government will obey the new measures but would appeal them in court.

“This (regional) government is not in revolt, it will comply strictly with all of the orders,” Ayuso told members of the Madrid assembly on Thursday morning.

The legal challenge, she insisted, would “defend the interest of the people of Madrid.”

“(The government’s) plan won’t work because it destroys Madrid for no reason,” she added.

The Spanish response to the coronavirus pandemic has been hindered by deeply ingrained political rivalry, which thrives in the country’s decentralized system.

The central government delegated powers to respond to the pandemic to regional authorities at the end of the state of alarm that had kept the nation largely housebound between March and June.

Ayuso, whose regional executive is staffed by the PP and center-right Ciudadanos and is propped up by the far-right Vox, has been at loggerheads with the left-wing coalition government of Socialist Party (PSOE) leader and prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

The Madrid leader is reluctant to enforce a city-wide lockdown, saying it would further flog a regional economy that was already severely bruised by the last lockdown — the capital’s local economy slumped by 24.2 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to local government statistics.

Over the weekend, the Spanish government warned it could not rule out overriding the Madrid government to implement stricter controls in the city.

The new Covid-19 measures published in the state gazette Thursday were the fruit of negotiations between the central government and the Madrid government, which agreed to the terms on the condition they would apply to all cities in Spain.

Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, put them before the Inter-territorial Health Committee on Wednesday. A total of 13 of the country's autonomous regions voted in favor of adopting the rules.

Madrid, however, voted against, as did other regional governments in the hands of the opposition PP as well as separatist-led Catalonia.

Illa held a press conference following the vote.

“When you go to the doctor, you hope you’re going to be told the truth,” he said, setting out the new guidelines. “The situation in Madrid is complex and worrying.”

While politicians bicker over strategies, some residents of the capital are becoming frustrated.

Joaquín López Aparicio, 37, who works in the banking sector, believes that measures introduced by regional governments should be respected given the transfer of power at the end of the state of alarm, but says political differences should be put aside in the interest of the population.

“They need to be able to find an agreement between each other so that this does not transcend the needs of the public. What we expect from politicians is to be able to make a deal to address problems affecting the population in the best possible way,” he told efe-epa.

The new health indicators apply to any municipality with a population of more than 100,000 people and are set to affect Madrid metropolitan area, nine of the capital’s satellite cities, including Getafe and Leganés, and Pamplona in the northern region of Navarre.

Under the new guidelines, local authorities must implement a partial lockdown if they have a coronavirus incidence rate above 500 per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days, a PCR test positivity rate above 10 percent and more than 35 percent of ICU beds are taken by Covid-19 patients.

Bars and restaurants in affected areas will have to reduce their capacity and close by 11pm while shopping centers will have to cut capacity to 50 percent and close by 10pm. The government reversed its earlier proposal to close children’s playgrounds.

The regional Madrid government has already placed 45 health districts in a partial lockdown, a measure that has overwhelmingly affected lower-income neighborhoods in the south. The move prompted protests amid accusations of classism.

Estefania Sal, who works in a private hospital in the city center but must commute through the south of Madrid, is in favor of expanding the lockdown to the rest of the city.

“We need a stricter confinement, which is more unified and the same for everyone. It doesn’t make sense to just confine the areas with a high incidence rate if people from those areas move around the region freely to work,” she said.

Spain has reported almost 770,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, some 230,500 of which were documented in Madrid.

It remains one of Europe’s hardest-hit nations with a death toll of 31,791 although fatalities rates have dropped compared to the first wave of Covid-19. EFE-EPA