Madrid officials reluctantly ready city for partial lockdown

Madrid has appealed against a national order that requires a partial lockdown of the Spanish capital, just hours before a deadline for enacting the restrictions in the European coronavirus hot spot

The appeal to the National Court argues that restrictions on movement, social gatherings and commerce by central authorities violate regional self-rule laws and provoke “totally unjustified” economic damage.

The capital had a two-week infection rate of 695 cases per 100,000 residents Thursday, more than twice the national average of 274 cases and seven times the European average, which stood at 94 per 100,000 residents last week, according to the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Madrid regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero said the situation is improving, with the infection rate falling to 607 per 100,000 Friday and four consecutive days of fewer people being admitted to hospitals.

“The numbers give us reason for hope,” he told a news conference.

Under the new national order, Madrid’s regional authorities must announce before the end of Friday a set of new measures that will ban all nonessential trips in and out of the capital and nine of its suburbs, a population of around 4.8 million.

Travelers will need to prove that they are going to or from work, to see a doctor or to conduct essential administrative or legal errands in order to leave Madrid or the town where they live.

Restaurants must close at 11 p.m. and shops at 10 p.m., with a restriction of 50% capacity.

Similar measures already apply to more than 1 million residents, and the region has limited social gatherings to a maximum of six people.

Madrid legal chief Enrique López said authorities will comply with the order, deploying more police, even though they believe it will “create chaos.” He estimated the order will cost the Madrid economy 8 billion euros ($9.4 billion). He did not provide details of how the amount was calculated.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has refused to budge, saying Madrid faces “a moment of extraordinary seriousness.”

“The situation in Madrid is critical because (the region) has 33% of (COVID-19) deaths,” he said in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit.

The soft lockdown order comes after weeks of political bickering, with the center-right regional government resisting a full Madrid lockdown and accusing Sánchez’s left-wing national coalition of going after the region for political reasons.

Some passengers at Madrid’s main train station, Atocha, welcomed the new steps.

“I think they need to take strong measures to control the epidemic here in Madrid,” said Vicente Mira, a 62-year-old retired teacher.

Communication manager Pablo Torres, 36, wanted officials to get tough, saying the current measures are “nonsense and a sticking plaster on something that is a lot bigger problem.”

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Alicia Leon and Iain Sullivan in Madrid, and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this story.