Thousands of Catalans return to lockdown as Spain fights new virus clusters

By Joan Faus BARCELONA (Reuters) - Some 160,000 people in the Spanish region of Catalonia went back into confinement on Wednesday as authorities scrambled to control a fresh surge of coronavirus infections in the area, just weeks after a nationwide lockdown was lifted. But just as a judge approved the regional government's stay-at-home order for residents of the Lleida area, about 180 km (110 miles) west of Barcelona, tensions rose over how to handle an increase in cases in a suburb of the Catalan capital.

Reuters July 16, 2020 00:18:15 IST
Thousands of Catalans return to lockdown as Spain fights new virus clusters

Thousands of Catalans return to lockdown as Spain fights new virus clusters

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Some 160,000 people in the Spanish region of Catalonia went back into confinement on Wednesday as authorities scrambled to control a fresh surge of coronavirus infections in the area, just weeks after a nationwide lockdown was lifted.

But just as a judge approved the regional government's stay-at-home order for residents of the Lleida area, about 180 km (110 miles) west of Barcelona, tensions rose over how to handle an increase in cases in a suburb of the Catalan capital.

Tourism-dependent Spain, one of Europe's hardest-hit countries with more than 28,000 deaths from the pandemic, brought a tough national lockdown to an end on June 21.

Since then, more than 170 clusters have sprung up, prompting regional authorities to impose a patchwork of local restrictions, confusing locals and angering businesses.

Tensions are at their highest in Catalonia because the wealthy north-eastern region of 7.5 million people is seeing the biggest number of new cases.

Also, an acrimonious push for Catalonia's independence in recent years has kept relations strained between its separatist leaders and the central government in Madrid.

"The maximum priority of (the Catalan) government is people's health and life and there cannot be any judicial interference that complicates the collective fight against the pandemic," Quim Torra's regional government said in a statement.

The statement urged people to comply with all the measures it had announced on Tuesday, including a restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people in three neighbourhoods of L'Hospitalet, a Barcelona suburb that is home to around 260,000, even though another judge struck down that measure overnight.

Such restrictions need to be approved by a judge, and the Catalan government said it would appeal against the ruling. The limit on gatherings is part of a resolution asking residents in those areas in L'Hospitalet to stay home, though the limit is not mandatory there.

Barcelona's mayor Ada Colau told local channel TV3 she was worried about the coronavirus outbreaks and said a "small step backwards" might be needed, but she stopped short of announcing a lockdown or any other measures for Barcelona, which is Spain's second-largest city and one of the most popular with tourists.

While Catalonia, Spain's second-most populous region, is the first to return its citizens to home confinement, parts of Galicia have been sealed off to visitors and a Basque town imposed a curfew to tackle their own outbreaks.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander, William Maclean)

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