Street parties, confusion loom as Spain prepares to exit emergency state

People protests against the closure of bars and gyms, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Barcelona, Spain

Police in Catalonia were preparing for hordes of pandemic-weary revellers to hit the streets when a national state of emergency expires on Sunday, while regional leaders across Spain vented frustration at uncertainty over what comes next.

On Saturday night, Catalans will head home in time for a 10 p.m. curfew, as they have done for the past six months, but when the decree expires two hours later they will be free to reclaim the streets and while away the small hours outdoors.

A regional police spokeswoman said on Thursday a “significant influx” of people was expected at beaches, parks and squares, requiring reinforcements to ensure gatherings remain smaller than six people and people wear masks – local regulations that fall outside the state of emergency.

Imposed last October to curb a rampant second wave of infections, the emergency decree allowed the central government to temporarily suspend civil liberties and enforce a nationwide curfew as well as local travel bans and lockdowns.

When it ends, each of Spain’s 17 regions must individually seek approval from local courts to continue such measures, likely creating a kaleidoscope of diverging restrictions and legal battles.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Carolina Darias said the regions had enough instruments to keep the pandemic in check as the infection rate is easing and vaccination is progressing full speed.

Around half the regions have confirmed they plan to scrap the curfew and bans on non-essential travel across their borders.

Others have yet to announce a decision, including Madrid, where right-wing maverick Isabel Diaz Ayuso just won a landslide re-election campaigning on loose restrictions.

Some regions that backed keeping stricter measures were unhappy, and governors complained their hands were weakened, even with a fast-track appeal process to the Supreme Court.

“We will be facing the same risk as before but with worse instruments to manage it,” Galicia’s regional leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo said.

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