Soaring COVID-19 cases in Spain prompt more regions to toughen response

FILE PHOTO: Doctors treat coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients at Enfermera Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid, Spain, January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish regions of Galicia, La Rioja and Cantabria became the latest to tighten coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday amid a spiralling national infection rate that officials have blamed on lax adherence to the rules over Christmas.

After a lull in contagion in late November, cases skyrocketed through December and into early January, doubling the incidence of the virus as measured over the past 14 days in just three weeks, to 454 cases per 100,000 people.

Unlike European countries such as Britain and the Netherlands, which have extended national lockdowns, the Spanish authorities have repeatedly said a return to confinement is not necessary. Instead it has delegated regional authorities to deploy a mixture of curfews, caps on group meetings and restrictions on business opening hours.

In northwestern Galicia, which reported a record 1,047 new cases on Wednesday, regional leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo banned all non-essential travel in the seven largest cities, told bars and restaurants to close at 4 pm and brought forward a curfew to 10 pm.

He linked the region’s “worrying” transmission rate to high numbers visiting eateries and bars, and said the measures should help bring forward a new peak in infections to late January from mid-February.

“Nobody wants to see bars and restaurants closed, but the priority must be protecting people’s health,” he told a news conference.

Wine-producing La Rioja ordered non-essential businesses to close at 5pm and limited group meetings to four people, while shopping centres in Cantabria are banned from opening at weekends.

The moves follow a call by Castile and Leon on Tuesday for its citizens to avoid unnecessary contacts.

Spain reported 25,438 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total up to 2,14 million cases, while the death toll climbed by 408 to 52,683.

Reporting by Nathan Allen and Cristina Sanchez; Editing by Inti Landauro and Philippa Fletcher