Millions of Catalans urged to stay home as coronavirus cases jump

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalonia on Friday urged some four million people, including Barcelona residents, to stay home, in a major tightening of their response to an increase in coronavirus cases.

People sit inside a bar, after the regional authorities of Catalonia and the city council announced restrictions to contain the spread of the disease by coronavirus (COVID-19) in Barcelona, ​​Spain, July 17, 2020. REUTERS / Nacho Twelve

The call to stay home did not come to mandatory confinement, but it was the strongest measure taken to fight new groups since Spain emerged from a state of emergency nationwide a month ago.

Residents of Barcelona, ​​its suburbs, and the Segria and Noguera areas farthest from the city, were urged to shop online and leave home only to go to work, visit a doctor, or perform other essential activities. Those affected amounted to more than half the population of the northeast region.

“We recommend that people do not move if it is not absolutely necessary,” said the head of health for Catalonia, Alba Verges, at a press conference. Gatherings of more than 10 people were banned because most infections stemmed from social gatherings, he said.

“It is very important to respect these measures now, it is the best way to avoid a blockade,” said Verges, calling on people to act responsibly. “No one wants a complete lockdown at home.”

Overall, Spain reported 628 new cases on Friday, its largest daily increase since early May, with Catalonia and neighboring Aragon representing the bulk of the new groups. However, the increase was still well below the numbers seen at the height of the pandemic.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and local residents questioned whether people would follow the Catalan government’s non-binding recommendations, after days of legal and political disputes over the power of regional authorities to impose bans.

“These measures … seem good to me, but if people don’t comply, then (the government) will have to take tougher measures,” said Nadine González, 33.

Colau said there was legal uncertainty about whether such measures could be mandatory, but urged people to respect them anyway.

Cultural and sporting events will also be limited, but museums will remain open in Barcelona, ​​one of the most visited cities in Europe.

Bars and restaurants can continue to operate, but with a limit of half their normal indoor capacity and a distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) between outdoor tables.

Spain has been one of the most affected countries in Europe, with more than 28,000 deaths from COVID-19. It emerged from a strict national shutdown on June 21, but since then more than 170 infection groups have emerged, prompting regional authorities to impose a patchwork of local restrictions.

Madrid, which was greatly affected during the height of the pandemic, has yet to introduce new restrictions.

Reports from Inti Landauro, Ingrid Melander, Emma Pinedo, Jesús Aguado in Madrid and Luis Felipe Castilleja, Jordi Rubio in Barcelona; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Frances Kerry

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