Spain's regions to need court backing for COVID-19 restrictions

Sofas are seen on a street after curfew, in Barcelona
Sofas are seen on a street after curfew, as the state of alarm decreed by the Spanish Government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is due to end on Sunday, in Barcelona, Spain, May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

MADRID, May 4 (Reuters) - Spain's regions must seek judicial authorisation for the most restrictive COVID-19 measures once a national state of emergency ends next week, the government said on Tuesday, setting the stage for a potentially chaotic transition.

The six-month emergency decree, which provides a legal framework for a nationwide 11 p.m. curfew and other measures that limit fundamental civil liberties, expires on Sunday.

Regional authorities, which already have a high degree of autonomy in setting their pandemic response, will still be able to dictate business opening hours and occupancy rates.

But they will only be able to impose curfews, lockdowns and caps on gatherings in the home with approval from local courts, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said.

"Regions can justify, argue, propose measures ... that limit rights and freedoms, but they need a judicial authorisation," she told a news conference.

If a local court strikes down a proposed measure, the regional authority could appeal to the Supreme Court, which would then establish a national precedent.

With infection rates and political approaches varying widely across Spain's 17 regions, post state-of-emergency restrictions are likely to diverge sharply too, though details remain scarce.

Authorities in the Basque Country, which has Spain's highest two-week infection rate of 491 cases per 100,000 people, have indicated they want to maintain strict curbs on transport.

At the other end of the spectrum, northwestern Asturias, where the rate is just 132 cases per 100,000, has proposed extending bar opening hours to 1 a.m.

Health Ministry data released on Tuesday showed the nationwide rate edged down to 213 per 100,000.

The government also decoupled a package of measures aimed at protecting vulnerable tenants and homeowners from eviction and foreclosure from the emergency decree and extended them until Aug 9.

Reporting by Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo; Editing by Nathan Allen and Ed Osmond

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