Catalonia orders 24/7 stores to close at night as coronavirus cases surpass 200,000 mark
New infections skyrocket to 3,383 on Monday in biggest daily surge since beginning of the pandemic
Catalonia has ordered 24/7 stores to remain closed between 10 pm and 7 am in a new push to curb coronavirus infections following concerns that the recent closure of bars and restaurants might lead to an increase in street drinking.
On Monday, Covid-19 figures released by the Catalan health department saw a record-breaking 3,383 surge new in cases confirmed by PCR tests, which takes the total number of PCR and other diagnoses since the beginning of the pandemic to 203,397.
At a time when European countries like France are imposing curfews, Catalan authorities say they are opting for lighter and incremental restrictions to avoid a full lockdown.
Interior minister Miquel Sàmper said that rather than simply looking at what countries like France and Belgium were doing, people should look at "why they were doing it and what the outcome was."
Speaking on Radio 4 on Monday morning, Sàmper said the new measures were aimed at reducing opportunities to purchase alcohol, and tackling street drinking, especially among younger people.
The minister said the sector affected was "very small," and said the move aimed at avoiding the need for even more restrictions.
Gas stations and community centers
Other measures announced by health officials include shutting indoor and outdoor dining areas at gas stations, which can still sell food and drinks as long as safety distances are guaranteed. In-person activities organized by community centers have also been canceled, except for some essential social and educational services.
Monday’s package of restrictions come only three days after an array of measures came into effect last Friday, such as the closure of bars and restaurants and the reduction of capacity limits for stores and cultural facilities.
And although businesses that involve physical contact must close, hair salons have been allowed to remain open. This has led to complaints from the sector, with some arguing they should not be required to pay 21% VAT if they are "classified as an essential service."
Catalonia’s Fecasarm association, encompassing bars and restaurants, estimated that 315 billion euros were lost over the first weekend of closures. They also warned of an increase in drinking in public as well as private parties defying social distancing guidelines.
Meanwhile, Barcelona Commerce expressed "concern and bewilderment" to the relaxed approach from authorities to many of the picnics and gatherings in the city's parks, saying images over the weekend contrasted sharply with the "controls that the hospitality industry and restaurants have been implementing until now."
The body criticized a "lack of coherence" in the measures approved and emphasized the "serious consequences" the restrictions have in terms of jobs and the economy.
The Hairdressing sector organized protests outside the Tax Agency in cities across Catalonia today to demand a reduction in VAT to 10%.
Hairdressers currently pay 21% VAT but argue that, as they have been described as an essential service, and therefore have remained open while many other sectors have been forced to close for two weeks, their VAT category should be adjusted.
Pilar Pérez, of the Catalan Hairdressers Federation, said that if hairdressers are "categorized as an essential service, we don't think we should be paying 21% VAT."
Meanwhile, the Wedding Management Association also held a demonstration in Barcelona on Monday against Covid measures as only up to six people can socialize together, but may not eat or drink outside the home.
"Our venues are safe," argued Pep Menguell, who works in the sector. "We employ every safety measure so that people who come, guests as well as staff, remain virus-free."