Catalonia will not progress in the de-escalation plan next Monday

New rise in pandemic figures halts further reopening for two further weeks, meaning obligation to stay in town of residence at the weekend to stay

People sit at a bar terrace in a square in Barcelona (by Jordi Bataller)
People sit at a bar terrace in a square in Barcelona (by Jordi Bataller) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

December 3, 2020 01:16 PM

Catalonia will not progress to de-escalation phase two next Monday as expected in the reopening of social life scheme published in mid-November.

Health minister Alba Vergés announced on Thursday that Catalonia will stay in phase 1 for two more weeks until December 21. 

The downward trend in the Covid-19 progression stopped a few days ago, as soon as the outbreak risk dropped from 'very high' to 'high' category on Monday, which has prompted the authorities to pause further reopening. 

In the past few days, the figures have begun to rise again, a week after bars, restaurants, cultural and sports venues began to reopen after roughly a month closed.

On Thursday, the Covid-19 transmission rate, also known as the R number, increased for the fifth day in a row, reaching 0.92. If the R number goes above 1 that is an indication that every positive case, on average is spreading the virus to more than one person.

When Catalonia's government presented the progressive reopening scheme after the peak of the second wave last month, they said that if the transmission rate surpassed 0.90, the country would not move to phase 2.

The scheme provided four phases, and every two weeks there would be a phase progression – if the pandemic situation allowed it.

The plan came into force on Monday, November 23, so a decision on whether two weeks later, December 7, Catalonia will be in phase 2, had to be made some days prior.

Sharp change in trend

Health minister Alba Vergés said in a press conference on Thursday that they have observed a "sharp change in figures" obliging authorities to increase caution. 

Public health secretary Josep Maria Argimon added that a potential new wave would bring the system to a standstill, turning hospitals into "Covid hospitals" like in the first wave. 
Interior ministry senior officials called on the public to act with "responsibility" and to stay at home in the long weekend ahead.

Phase two main measures

Phase two of the de-escalation plan would have meant loosening the weekend partial lockdown – instead of having to stay in one's town of residence, the public would have been allowed to travel within their county from Friday at 6am to Monday at 6am.

The closure of Catalan borders would still have been in operation all days, while shops would have seen their capacity limit raised from 30% to 50% – shopping malls would have opened for the first time in over a month with a 30% capacity.

Cinemas, theaters, and music venues would have been able to open at 70% and not 50% like in phase one, but the 500-people cap would have stayed – something that has sparked outrage of large venues such as the iconic Liceu opera house.

As for bars, they would see their capacity indoors from 30% to 50%, while outdoors the lack of limitation would have continued – their opening times would stay from 6 am to 9:30 pm, as the 10pm to 6am curfew would have still been in operation.

Several sectors were looking forward to moving phase, especially ski resorts, who announced earlier this week that they would open on December 9 if Catalonia moved to phase 2 next Monday – now this decision is now in question, as only people living in the town of the resorts would be able to visit at the weekend. 

Traveling for family gatherings unaffected

The delay in the phase change might mean that Catalonia will probably be in phase 2 and not 3 for Christmas. Yet, this will not prevent family meals from happening.

Traveling for such gatherings across Catalonia and to other areas in Spain will be allowed in the Christmas key dates (December 24 to 26, 31, and January 1 and 6) no matter what de-escalation phase is in force at that time, as made clear by Vergés in the press conference. 

Authorities said that the plan announced on Wednesday on the holidays remains unaffected – the Catalan government laid out measures for those key dates for families.

These includes the fact that the night curfew will be delayed until 1.30 am on December 24 and 31, and until 11 pm on January 5, the eve of the Three Kings Day.

Later on Wednesday, the Spanish government announced a ban on travel between regions from December 23 to January 6, but will allow visits to "relatives and next of kins."