July 15, 2020 / 8:10 AM / a month ago

Thousands of Catalans return to lockdown as Spain fights new virus clusters

MADRID, July 15 (Reuters) - Some 160,000 people in the Spanish region of Catalonia returned to confinement on Wednesday as authorities scrambled to control a fresh surge of coronavirus infections in the area, just weeks after a nationwide lockdown was lifted.

A judge finally approved the regional government’s stay-at-home order for residents of the city of Lleida and six nearby towns on Tuesday night after several days of legal wrangling and political tensions over the issue.

Under the new rules, people may only leave their homes for essential activities like working or buying supplies, while hotels, restaurants and bars will close except for food pick-up or delivery.

Regional authorities have also encouraged the residents of three neighbourhoods in L’Hospitalet, a Barcelona suburb that is home to around 260,000, to stay home, but that’s not a mandatory confinement. Another judge refused to rubber stamp a proposed restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people there.

After more than 28,000 deaths from the pandemic, Spain’s government ended a nationwide lockdown on June 21, considering it had dealt with the worst of the virus as the number of contagions had ground to a near halt.

But since then, more than 170 clusters have sprung up around Spain, prompting regional authorities to impose a patchwork of local restrictions, confusing locals and angering businesses.

While Catalonia, which is Spain’s second-most populous region, is the first to return its citizens to home confinement, parts of Galicia have been sealed off to visitors and the Basque town of Ordizia imposed a curfew to tackle their own outbreaks.

And, following Catalonia’s lead, a string of regions introduced compulsory mask use at all times, regardless of whether social-distancing can be guaranteed. In the southern Andalusia region, the restriction even applies to beachgoers. (Reporting by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander, William Maclean)

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