Politics 07/04/2021

Covid measures after end of state of alarm: no more curfew, but travel restrictions to stay

The end of the extension on May 9 rekindles the political debate on alternative measures

3 min
Entry controls in Galicia for Easter Week.

MadridPedro Sánchez has decided to advance de-escalation with the prospect of early elections on May 4 for the Madrid regional government. Instead of defending the measures taken so far and facing Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who campaigns for laxity especially in the hospitality industry, the Socialists have clung to the forecast of acceleration of vaccination thanks to the incorporation of Janssen doses from April 15 to rule out, for the moment, the extension of the state of alarm beyond May 9.

This has reignited the debate on the alternatives to this constitutional measure. While the PP is calling for a "legal plan B", the Spanish government assures that there is no need to change the legislation because there are already sufficient legal instruments in place. It is a similar situation to that of a year ago, when the timetable for the de-escalation of the first wave also created doubt over what powers regions had to apply restrictions. And, once again, the Spanish government does not have any new regulations in its pocket to give regional governments a backstop, meaning legal wrangling is a likely outcome.

At the end of October, a six-month state of alarm was approved in a hurry. The then Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, assured that there was no alternative to this constitutional measure to give legal protection to travel restrictions and the night curfew; now, Pedro Sánchez's executive is clinging on to a legal loophole so that the interterritorial council of Health can impose decisions on the different communities, as happened with the ban on leaving Madrid during Easter Week despite Ayuso's reluctance.

But, for practical purposes, what will change from May 9? The experts are clear about one thing, and the Spanish government agrees: the night-time curfew, which in some communities begins at 10pm and in others at 11pm or midnight, will be lifted. Now, there is no such unanimity regarding travel restrictions. In the case of bans on entering or leaving cities or counties (comarca), regional governments can take refuge again in organic law 3/1986 of special measures on public health, although a judicial ratification is needed. There are more doubts about whether it allows administrations to prohibit journeys between regions. The Spanish government considers that this law is enough, quite the opposite of what it thought half a year ago.

The PP criticises Sánchez's plan

At the moment the regions are suspicious and sceptical about Sánchez's plan, whereas the leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, calls for a pandemic law which the government fears will lead to the repression of fundamental rights. In addition, they reproach the PP for rejecting the end of the state of alarm when they did not vote in favour of it in the first place. The first vice president of the Spanish government, Carmen Calvo, has warned this Wednesday that they will not make any legislative changes to address the phase that will open on May 10, because, in her opinion, it is not necessary. During an official visit to Extremadura, she pointed out that health legislation already "allows many answers" and that the courts have endorsed decisions of the inter-territorial Health Council, which brings together the Spanish Minister of Health with regional Health Ministers, being "mandatory".

The spokesperson for the Spanish executive, Maria Jesus Montero, in an interview with RNE, also defended last summer's strategy, which she believed worked "very well". She asked citizens to bear in mind that what will now end will be "general measures", "but what will never end is the competence that regions have to define what security measures can be put in place in their territory. "This is an important thing," he said.

What are regions specific competences? The limitation of the opening of shops, as well as restrictions on the hotel and catering trade. However, the limitation of the right to social gatherings both in these spaces and on public roads is, in principle, beyond their jurisdiction. Regions would have to invoke the law for special measures and wait for a judicial endorsement. The difference generated by the end of the state of alarm is that any decision can be appealed and may clash with different judicial positions.

As for regions obligation to compl with decisions taken by the inter-territorial Health council, the government cites the decision by the Supreme Court not to accept Vox's precautionary measures in its appeal to prevent the travel ban in Madrid over Easter. Although the high court has not yet ruled, Calvo is confident that it will point out that the decisions of the coordinating body in health matters are sovereign and mandatory.

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