BARCELONA • The streets of Barcelona have emptied, after millions of people were instructed to stay at home amid new coronavirus curbs following a spike in the number of infections in the past week.
“It’s a disaster,” wailed Ms Maria Quintana, looking at her empty bar terrace by the Sagrada Familia in Spain’s second-largest city, where the number of new cases has tripled to 800 in a week.
In an announcement last Friday, the Catalan regional government urged nearly four million residents of metropolitan Barcelona to stay home unless absolutely necessary, banning gatherings of over 10 people and shutting cinemas, theatres and nightclubs.
“We’d just started to see things coming back to life with the arrival of a few foreign tourists, so this is a step backwards,” Ms Quintana, 35, said over the weekend.
“If they impose another lockdown, I will drop the blind, but it might as well be dropping the blade of a guillotine on my own neck because we won’t be able to survive.”
The new curbs came barely four weeks after Spain ended its state of emergency which subjected 47 million residents to one of the world’s toughest lockdowns to slow the spread of a virus that has killed over 28,400 people in the country.
The national lockdown, which also saw Spain’s borders closed, caused huge economic damage, particularly to the tourism sector, which had hoped to recoup some of its losses over the summer.
Last Saturday, there were barely any tourists outside the Sagrada Familia, one of Spain’s most-visited landmarks, and most of those were unaware of the new restrictions.
“There are not lot of people in the street, but we did not know,” said 23-year-old Karolina Kapounova from the Czech Republic, sweating behind a face mask which is now obligatory in public at all times in most of Spain’s regions.
“I don’t think we will change our schedule… But with (your) mouth covered all the time and the heat, it’s a bit bothersome.”
Although the regional government asked residents not to leave for their second homes, the traffic authorities registered the departure of 350,000 vehicles heading for nearby coastal areas.
“It’s a mistake,” Dr Jacobo Mendioroz, the region’s Covid-19 chief, told Rac1 radio station. “The next step will be (mandatory) home confinement.”
The surge in new cases has led to fierce criticism of Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government for not being better prepared.
During the lockdown, the Catalan leadership had bitterly criticised the central government in Madrid, insisting they would have done a much better job if they had been independent.