Madrid adopts virus restrictions exposing poor-rich divide

MADRID (AP) — Police in the Spanish capital and its surrounding towns on Monday stopped people coming in and out of some working-class neighborhoods that have been partially locked down to stem Europe’s fastest coronavirus spread.

The police controls will only relay information on the restrictions for the first two days. Enforcement of stay-in orders will be mandatory starting from Wednesday and those not justifying their trips for work, study or medical reasons will face fines, regional authorities said.

The new heightened restrictions, including occupancy limits in shops and restaurants and closed parks, affect some 860,000 residents. They have been met with protests from people who think that authorities are stigmatizing the poor.

The targeted areas have a 14-day rate of transmission above 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, some of the highest in Europe. They are also densely populated with less-affluent residents who cram into small apartments and use public transportation to work in manual jobs in other areas of the city.

Some people online shared photos of crammed rush-hour subway trains, complaining that the problem was not in the suburbs but due to the lack of sufficient public transport.

In the hard-hit area of Vallecas, Waiter Raul Hernández said that his coffee-shop expected less business.

“Yesterday afternoon the change started to be seen and today we are not doing anything,” he said. “People are accepting it well, they understand it but they are afraid.”

Hundreds took their grievances to the streets on Sunday, clapping in unison while shouting for the Madrid regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, to step down. The protesters also called for the restrictions to be extended to all the city, expressing anger at authorities for acting late and targeting the poorest areas while not doing enough to reinforce the region’s health centers with more staff.

The city’s rate of infection — 682.57 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 2 weeks — is nearly three times the national average of 267.82). Europewide, that number was 76 last week.

After weeks exchanging blame for inaction, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a Socialist, was meeting on Monday with Ayuso, a conservative politician of the opposition Popular Party, to coordinate a stronger response to the outbreaks. A few dozen protesters clad in Spanish flags called for Sánchez to step down outside of the Madrid government’s meeting place.

Spain is struggling to contain a second wave of the virus, which has killed at least 30,000 people according to the country’s health ministry.

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Alicia León contributed to this report.