Spain's Catalonia says to shut bars, restaurants for 15 days
- Bars and restaurants are to be closed across Spain
- Spain currently has 899,000 COVID-19 infections
- The infection rate in Madrid is rising
Bars and restaurants are to be closed across Spain's northeastern Catalonia region for the next 15 days to slow rising coronavirus infections, the regional government said on Wednesday.
The move comes as Spain battles one of the highest rates of infection in the European Union, with nearly 900,000 infections and more than 33,000 deaths.
"The measures will come into force overnight Thursday to Friday and will remain in place for an initial 15 days," said interim regional leader Pere Aragones, describing them as "painful but necessary".
Similar measures came into force across the Netherlands on Wednesday while Northern Ireland announced a four-week closure of pubs and restaurants just over a week after Paris shuttered its bars and cafes.
Catalonia, a wealthy Spanish region which borders France, initially struggled with a rise in infections as the second wave took hold over the summer, but appeared to get a handle on the situation after ordering people to stay home in Barcelona and other cities.
Although restrictions were eased after the outbreak was brought under control, the number of infections has once again risen sharply in recent days."Action is needed today to avoid a full lockdown in the coming weeks," Aragones said."We have decided to apply restrictions where most people let their guard down," he said, acknowledging it would be "difficult for the restaurant sector" who would only be able to offer takeaway meals.
He also urged people to avoid leaving their homes, warning the risk of the outbreak worsening was "extremely high".
The announcement came as Madrid's regional leaders were locked in a political standoff with the central government over imposition of a partial lockdown in the capital and eight surrounding towns to slow the rampant spread of cases.
The restrictions, under which some 4.5 million people cannot leave the city limits and bars and restaurants must observe an 11:00 pm curfew, initially came into force on October 2 but were briefly suspended by the courts, prompting the central government to step in, overriding regional opposition.
Madrid's rightwing authorities have opposed the partial lockdown on grounds it will cause huge damage to the region's economy.
"May the effort that these economic sectors are making today not be in vain, we need everyone to get on board," Aragones said.
The infection rate in the region of Madrid currently stands at 490 cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days, compared with just 263 in Catalonia -- the same number as in the rest of Spain, which is one of the highest in the European Union.