Spain was one of Europe’s worst-hit countries from the coronavirus. But now it’s ended its national state of emergency – in place since last October.
A nighttime curfew has been lifted and domestic travel is permitted again. But each region is still free to impose its own containment measures.
Critics say the new policy will lead to confusion and a possible new surge in cases. Madrid has been yearning for this moment: At the stroke of midnight – freedom at last. Euphoric revelers packed into Puerta del Sol square — to sing, dance, beat drums, and drink with their friends.
Regions can still restrict opening hours and impose capacity limits in bars and restaurants.
They can also seek court approval for stricter measures such as reimposing curfews, capping the number allowed at home gatherings or extending a ban on internal travel.
But the courts have offered different rulings, leading to a patchwork of measures across the country.
A court in the eastern Valencia region approved a midnight-to-6:00 am curfew, while the top court in the northern Basque Country said the area could not keep its nighttime curfew.
Spain has set the goal of vaccinating 70% of its adult population — 33 million people — by the end of August. After being slowed by delays in shipments from drugmakers, Spain has sped up its vaccination efforts and now has gotten at least one shot to almost 13 million people.
The government’s priority is the elderly and most vulnerable. It has completely vaccinated 95% of people over age 80.
There were similar scenes across the country, like in Barcelona, where pandemic-weary crowds kicked up their heels in the city center. The emergency decree gave regional authorities a legal framework to enforce nighttime curfews and travel bans.
Now for the first time since October, people can move freely between regions. Restaurants can serve tables again. Along with bars, they are allowed to remain open into the night.
Spain’s vaccination drive is picking up pace and the infection rate has stabilized. Some worry that a domestic travel surge and increased socializing will lead to new outbreaks.
But experts say the combined effect of past infections, restrictions, and vaccinations all served to turn what could have been Spain’s fourth wave into nothing more than a ripple.