July 19, 2020 / 12:31 PM / 23 days ago

Sun-seekers crowd Barcelona beaches, defying coronavirus stay-at-home advice

BARCELONA (Reuters) - People sunbathed and played in the sea along Barcelona’s beaches on Sunday, ignoring pleas from Catalan authorities for area residents to stay at home as coronavirus cases continued to rise in one of Spain’s worst-hit regions.

Women eat as they enjoy the sunny weather at Barceloneta beach, after Catalonia's regional authorities and the city council announced restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Barcelona, Spain July 19, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

As police patrolled in masks to ensure social distancing, Barceloneta beach, a favourite with tourists, reached capacity and had to be closed to new bathers on Sunday afternoon. People were queueing to access the beach.

Earlier in the day, authorities urged the more than 96,000 residents of three Catalan towns to stay home as part of a toughened response to the crisis. On Friday, some four million people, including in Barcelona, were advised to leave their home only for essential trips.

“Staying at home in the summer is stifling and stressful,” said Felipe, when asked why he had come to the beach despite the advice.

“I work five days a week and can’t spend every day at home. My mental health comes first,” said the 24-year-old, who was wearing a mask.

The latest figures from Catalonia’s regional health ministry on Sunday showed a daily increase of 944 cases.

The stay-home call stops short of imposing a mandatory lockdown, but is the strongest measure taken to returning people to home confinement since Spain emerged from a nationwide lockdown on June 21.

The new measures also include a ban on meetings of over 10 people. Bars and restaurants will be allowed to open, but at 50% capacity inside and with a 2-metre (6.5-foot) distance between tables outside.

Spain was one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with more than 28,000 deaths.

Since the national lockdown ended, more than 170 infection clusters have sprung up, prompting regional authorities to impose a patchwork of local restrictions.

Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Sonya Hepinstall

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