29/11/2021

From the Constitutional Court's ruling on the state of alarm to the new variant

2 min
A police checkpoint in Barcelona during the strictest of confinements

The Catalan Government plans to pay back €4.6m corresponding to the 24,295 fines handed out for breaking restrictions during the first lockdown. The Department of the Home Affairs will pay back once affected citizens fill out a form which is expected to be made available before Christmas. The operation still needs to be approved by the legal department, and the authorities have ruled out paying any interest on the sums, although experts are not certain this would be legal. The method chosen to return the fines paid (just 17% of those given) tries to respond to one of the consequences of the Constitutional Court's July ruling which declared the state alarm that allowed the lockdown void.

The Constitutional Court's decision, based on an appeal by Vox with the full support of the PP, has other consequences in addition to the collection of sanctions. Above all, it leaves the state government in a weak position when it comes to taking certain measures to combat the pandemic, unless it is willing to decree a state of emergency. And, this trickles down to all other administrations. Pedro Sánchez's government continues to argue that the decision fell within the "constitutional parameters", and the truth is that the deep division in the Court's decision (six votes to five) strengthens its point. But it is also clear that the crux of the matter hinges as much (or more) on the political factor than on the legal one. In this sense, it is waiting for the changes to the Constitutional Court agreed with the PP to become effective.

But this will happen in June at the earliest and, although expectations about the pandemic were optimistic at the end of summer, due to the vaccination rate, the irruption of the Omicron variant opens an ostensibly different panorama. More and more cases are being confirmed every day in Europe and, while the effects the Omicron variant will have on vaccinated people are yet unknown, countries are taking measures. In the United Kingdom, face masks are being brought back, emphasizing its use (never widespread until now). In addition, the closure of leisure activities has provoked violent demonstrations, especially serious in Belgium and the Netherlands, already before the irruption of the Omicron. Portugal has announced that from 3 to 10 January teleworking will be compulsory in all companies, and that bars, clubs and schools will be closed. Israel yesterday announced it was closing its borders to foreigners for 14 days.

This crescendo, which for now has not been felt in the State beyond the suspension of flights with South Africa and Botswana, may end up affecting us. Vaccination levels in Spain and Catalonia are very high, but we still do not know the real degree of protection against the new variant. The unknown remains. The medical authorities have actively and passively denied that we will have to live again a total confinement like the one in March 2020. But before any restrictive and hard measure is taken, it would be good to know exactly in what legal margins the Spanish executive moves. If it has anything planned beyond waiting until June for the change to the TC to be real. Or if, on the contrary, we have to resign ourselves to attend another legislative, legal and bureaucratic mess that cascades through all the administrations.