Spain has lifted the state of emergency in place since October to fight the pandemic, allowing Spaniards to travel between regions for the first time in months.
“I was fed up with not being able to get out of Madrid,” jewelry designer Blaca Valls told AFP on Saturday, echoing the relief of many in the country at the easing of restrictions.
“I felt frustrated, locked up, without freedom,” added the 46-year-old who plans to travel to Galicia, in northwestern Spain, next weekend to celebrate his birthday.
Argentina Enriquez, a 37-year-old Mexican student, said she looks forward to heading to the countryside to enjoy barbecues with friends, play guitar and take walks.
“Just being together… a lot of emotions,” she said.
Although the emergency measure, which expired at midnight (10 p.m. GMT Saturday) will lead to more freedoms, it is a headache for the country’s 17 regional governments responsible for healthcare.
The state of emergency provided them with a legal framework to impose measures – such as nighttime curfews or a ban on non-essential travel between regions – that limited freedoms.
With the exception of a few days at Christmas, when restrictions were lifted, people were unable to travel to other areas, go on vacation, or see family.
Discouraged by the spike in post-Christmas infections, authorities have not relaxed internal travel restrictions during Easter week, normally a peak period in Spain.
But what really angered the Spaniards was the fact that foreign tourists were able to flock to the country on vacation when they were prohibited from going to the beach or visiting loved ones.
As intraregional travel bans have ended and curfews have been lifted, not all restrictions are relaxed in Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe with nearly 79,000 deaths and 3, 5 million infections.
– Divergent legal points of view –
Regions can still restrict opening hours and impose capacity limits in bars and restaurants.
They can also seek court approval for more stringent measures such as reimposing curfews, capping the number allowed at home gatherings, or extending a travel ban within the country.
But the courts have issued different decisions, leading to a patchwork of measures across the country.
A court in the eastern Valencia region approved a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew, while the northern Basque Country higher court said the region could not meet its nighttime curfew.
To avoid this scenario, several regions put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to prolong the emergency.
But his administration refused, saying the measures could not stay in place indefinitely, stressing the infection rate was stable and Spain’s vaccination program was progressing rapidly.
Despite this, he passed a decree granting regions the right to appeal to the Supreme Court if a local court overturns a proposed measure.
As head of a minority government, Sanchez had faced an uphill struggle to muster enough support to approve an extension of the state of emergency.
– Increase in train ticket sales –
Public rail operator Renfe says ticket sales for next week have increased 13% in the past seven days.
But after more than a year of restrictions and the weather turning hot and sunny, authorities have warned the population against dropping the guard.
The Spaniards must be careful “not to be mistaken about what it means to end the state of emergency … it does not mean to end the restrictions”, said on Thursday the emergency coordinator of the Ministry of Health, Fernando Simon .
Everyone must continue to behave responsibly, he insisted.
“Nothing can be excluded in terms of the evolution of the pandemic. “
© 2021 AFP