Madrid region under state of alarm due to Covid-19 surge

Disagreements between Spanish government and regional authorities as legal ruling led to Pedro Sánchez taking over

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, president of the Madrid regional government, during a press conference in May 2020 (by Comunitat de Madrid)
Isabel Díaz Ayuso, president of the Madrid regional government, during a press conference in May 2020 (by Comunitat de Madrid) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

October 9, 2020 07:09 PM

The Spanish government is taking over the Madrid region in order to assume management of its health system, which is under high pressure due to the worsening of the pandemic.

Spain's cabinet meeting declared a state of alarm for the region early on Friday afternoon, which came into effect from 5.45 pm, when it was published in the official gazette (BOE).

This happened after the Madrid region's high court barred a lockdown in Spain's capital and nine more municipalities on the grounds that restrictions "affect fundamental rights and freedoms" – leaving a state of alarm as the last resort to apply the confinement measures.

The region's administration, led by Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the People's Party, was reluctant to accept the lockdown put forward by the Spanish government – and welcomed the court's decision.

The back and forth between Díaz Ayuso and Pedro Sánchez's Socialist-led cabinet has lasted for weeks, as the latter has been asking for tougher measures that the former has rejected.

After the court's ruling, Díaz Ayuso asked for "dialogue" with Sánchez, and Spain's health ministry set a deadline for her to agree on the conditions for a lockdown, to be established either by the regional or by the state administration.

The People's Party politician did not agree to these terms as of Friday morning and asked for more time, so Spain's executive convened around midday – as Sánchez was returning to Madrid from an express visit to Barcelona – and enforced the state of alarm.

"Patience has a limit," said Spain's health minister Salvador Illa in a press conference to explain the decision. He also accused Ayuso of "doing nothing."

"We cannot sit and do nothing," he added. "The people of Madrid's health has to be protected, and we have to prevent the virus spreading to other regions.

Indeed, the Catalan executive has repeatedly blasted Ayuso's executive for not taking a tougher stance and has expressed concern over the possible impact the Madrid crisis could have in Catalonia.

In the past week, Covid-19 cases have also surged in Catalonia, but not as yet to the same extent as in Madrid.

State of alarm's scope

The exceptional measures came into force as soon as the official gazette (BOE) published it at 5.45 pm on Friday. It entails the Spanish government enforcing a lockdown of Madrid with 7,000 police officers.

Eight other towns are also closed off, including Alcobendas, Alcorcón, Fuenlabrada, Getafe Leganés, Móstoles, Parla and Torrejón de Ardoz.

The state of alarm for the region is to last 15 days, and congress would need to give its go-ahead to any extension.