Madrid is tackling its first day under a partial lockdown, with police controlling travel in and out of the Spanish capital that has become Europe’s biggest hot spot for the second wave of coronavirus.
The two-week ban imposed by Spain’s national government on reluctant regional officials started on Friday night at 10pm.
The measures prohibit all non-essential trips in and out of the capital and nine of its suburbs — affecting around 4.8 million people.
Restaurants must close at 11pm and shops at 10pm, and reduce occupancy to 50% of capacity.
Spain’s Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez said the steps are “critical” to stop a surging caseload and prevent a repeat of the scenes of March and April that saw hospitals overrun with dying patients.
Even though the measures are light compared with the home confinement mandated across Spain during the first wave of the virus, they have sparked a ferocious political battle between Mr Sanchez’s left-wing coalition government and the Madrid administration, run by a right-wing rival.
The Madrid government, led by Isabel Diaz Ayuso of the conservative Popular Party, said it would enforce the orders but it has filed an appeal at the National Court in hopes of annulling them.
Ms Ayuso and her regional ministers have said the restrictions will cause “chaos”, damage an already weakened economy and violate their jurisdiction as regional authorities.
Health experts have been urging Madrid to take stronger action for weeks, but the city’s health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero argues the measures are not necessary.
The health ministry ordered compliance after Madrid refused to accept a set of health metrics to dictate when cities with populations of 100,000 of more need to adopt heavier restrictions to curb the virus.
The measures were approved by a majority of regional health authorities from Spain’s 19 regions and autonomous cities, with Madrid in the minority against them.
The government orders only allow people to cross municipal borders to commute for work, for a medical appointment, legal errands or appointments with a governmental administration.
The region had already applied similar measures to certain areas, and limited social gatherings to a maximum of six people, but infections kept rising.
Madrid is leading the resurgence of the virus in Spain, which has Europe’s highest cumulative caseload — 770,000 since the onset of the pandemic.
The capital had a two-week infection rate of 695 cases per 100,000 residents on Thursday, more than twice the national average of 274 and seven times the European average, which stood at 94 last week, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 32,000 people have died from the virus in Spain, according to the health ministry.