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Madrid’s virus restrictions expose poor-rich divide

MADRID – Increased restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus in some Spanish working-class neighborhoods caused a heated debate over the prevalence of inequality in Spain amidst Europe’s fastest-growing COVID-19 spread.

The measures include requiring justification of trips out of the neighborhood, reduced occupancy in shops and restaurants, and affect about 860,000 residents. The measures have been met with protests as many of those affected feel that authorities are targeting the poor.

Spain is struggling to contain a second wave of coronavirus, which has killed at least 30,600 people, according to the country’s health ministry.

Madrid has become the center of the pandemic in Spain, with a rate of infection – 746 per 100,000 residents – nearly three times the national average of 280. Across Europe, that number averages 76.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met Monday with Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the opposition, agreeing for officials to hold technical and political meetings to coordinate a stronger response to the virus.

Sánchez said that the central government would contribute more health resources and military help, without elaborating further.

“Madrid requires a special plan,” the prime minister said. “We should be ready to contemplate other scenarios if it were necessary.”

A small group of protesters called for Sánchez to step down outside of Madrid’s government building.

Hundreds took to the streets on Sunday, clapping and shouting for Ayuso to step down. They called for new restrictions to be extended across the city, expressing outrage at authorities for refusing to act sooner and for targeting the poorest areas while not doing enough to reinforce the region’s health infrastructure.

“These measures are very difficult for us but we are sure that in one or two weeks we will start seeing results,” Ayuso said Monday, adding that Madrid’s status as an economic hub makes it the “perfect breeding ground for a virus like this.”

Police began enforcing the new limitations on the first day, stopping people traveling in and out of the target areas but limiting action to providing information. Starting from Wednesday, stay-at-home orders will be in place and those without justification for trips will face fines, according to regional authorities.

The targeted areas maintain a two-week rate of transmission above 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents – among the highest in Europe. The areas are highly populated with less-affluent residents packed into small apartments who use public transportation to work manual jobs across the city.

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

In the hard-hit Vallecas district, Mr. Hernández said that he expected a slow-down at his coffee shop.

“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.”

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