MADRID – Spain has experienced a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the past month which have prompted authorities to impose fresh restrictions in many parts of the country.
The 14-day coronavirus contagion rate was 469.50 per 100,000 of population, according to Spanish health ministry data released on Wednesday, making Spain’s one of the highest levels in Europe.
Barcelona and the surrounding region of Catalonia plan to impose a curfew to curb the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is running rampant among younger, unvaccinated Spaniards.
The Catalan regional authorities on Thursday were waiting for a judge to approve a nightly curfew after the two-week contagion level surpassed 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.
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Only Cyprus has a worse level of COVID-19 cases, according to data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among young people the situation is alarming. The rate among young people aged 20-29 years old is now more than 3,000 infections per 100,000 over the past 14 days.
Spain surpassed four million cases of Covid-19 this week, but the number of intensive care beds used for coronavirus cases are still relatively low at 8.75%, health ministry figures showed. Nearly 50% of the population have been double-vaccinated.
As COVID-19 levels rise dramatically across Spain, health experts are calling for the re-imposition of central government controls to replace regional authorities which have been managing the pandemic across Spain since the last state of emergency ended in May.
However, this may be more difficult to do after Spain’s constitutional court ruled on Wednesday that parts of the lockdown to contain the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, were unconstitutional.
Spain brought in the state of emergency in March last year, suspending some civil liberties, confining almost all of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants to their homes and shutting down all but essential industries for three months.
Vox, the far-right party, with 52 lawmakers in the Spanish parliament and the third largest political party, brought a suit in Spain’s constitutional court, claiming the original government order violated basic rights to freedom of movement.
In a split decision, six constitutional court magistrates supported Vox’s claim, while five voted against.
The magistrates ruled the state of emergency did warrant restricting
some citizens’ basic rights but the laws the leadership invoked in doing so did not give authorities sufficient legal backing to go as far as they did.
Instead, the judges said that to justify this restriction of personal freedoms, the government should have declared the more serious state of exception.
The court did reject part of Vox’s case which claimed that the state of emergency was unconstitutional in relation to funerals and wakes.
More than a year after the first lockdown ended, the court ruling represents a political victory for Vox.
For the Spanish state it also means a potential financial headache because 1.1 million fines imposed for breaking the state of emergency can now be appealed in court, meaning the government could be forced to refund the fines it imposed on some people.
After the court ruling on Wednesday, Spain’s Justice Minister Pilar Llop told a press conference that said the original state of emergency “saved 450,000 lives.”
“The duty of the government was to take immediate, urgent measures when faced with the rapid propagation of the virus,” she added.
Pablo Simón, a political analyst at the Carlos III University in Madrid, said the ruling had important implications for how Spain can control the pandemic.
“All fines imposed can now be appealed which will cause financial implications for the government,” he told VOA.
“According to the constitution, the state of exception can only be applied for 30 days. It was designed for public disturbances, not for pandemics.”
“Spain is left in a situation where it lacks a judicial instrument to impose limitations on personal liberties which are suited to a pandemic.”
Rafael Bengoa, a former World Health Organization health systems director who is now the director of the Institute for Health and Strategy in Bilbao, said he believed Spain has been overwhelmed by the spread of the delta variant.
“I said three weeks ago we would not control the delta variant. That variant is faster in everything; more transmissible, more virulent, when infected you reach higher viral loads sooner,” he told VOA.
“Hospitals are beginning to fill up like they did in the UK with younger people. Vaccination is proving insufficient when there is community transmission and that can only be controlled with much tougher measures,” he said.
“At present regional authorities must ask judges if they can bring in curfews, close bars etc but this is a sign of helplessness. Re-centralization of decisions would help to save the end of the summer,” Bengoa added.