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Standoff over Madrid's response to virus pandemic continues

After ending a meeting with Madrid regional officials without agreeing on how to tackle a worrying wave of coronavirus infections, Spain’s health minister has pleaded for the third time in four days for tougher measures in the capital.

The national government wants to see existing restrictions against the spread of the virus extended to the entire city while regional officials say that time is needed to see if the current limitations have an effect and that drastic measures would further hurt Spain’s economy.

The disagreement has played out publicly, raising concern among many in Madrid and the rest of Spain.

Medical residents sit in the middle of an avenue as they take part in a protest against their working conditions during a strike in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP PhotoEmilio Morenatti)

On Monday, Health Minister Salvador Illa said that data shows that the Madrid region, home to 6.6 million, “has community transmission and the pandemic is not under control.”

“It’s already too late and we need to act with determination,” he told a news conference.

Official data showed Monday that the country’s coronavirus tally has reached 748,266 infections since the onset of the pandemic, 31,785 more since the last update on Friday. There were 179 new fatalities for COVID-19, bringing the total death toll to 31,411, although experts think that the many more deaths haven't been recorded because of limited testing.

A view showing the area where Spanish flags were placed in memory of coronavirus (COVID-19) victims in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. An association of families of coronavirus victims has planted what it says are 53,000 small Spanish flags in a Madrid park to honor the dead of the pandemic. (AP PhotoManu Fernandez)

With 290 cases per 100,000 people in two weeks, Spain is by far leading Europe’s infections during this second wave. The rate is particularly high in the capital, Madrid, with 775 new cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days.

While primary care workers complain that they are overwhelmed by the number of people approaching health centers with suspected COVID-19, many hospitals in Madrid have already stopped certain surgeries and some non-essential treatment. Existing ICU wards are already being expanded with new beds, as they were in March during the first wave of the pandemic.

Madrid has limited all social gatherings to a maximum of six people, reduced the numbers of people who can go into shops and restaurants, and restricted access to and from 45 neighborhoods in the region.

A woman walks past a jewelry store in the upmarket neighborhood of Salamanca in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. The extended region around Madrid, comprising a population of 6.6 million, is struggling to control coronavirus outbreaks. Heightened restrictions in some of Madrid's working-class neighborhoods brought a heated debate over the prevalence of inequality in Spain. (AP PhotoBernat Armangue)

The regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has rejected a full lockdown, arguing that the closure of the city is “the easy way” out against the outbreaks.

“Completely confining Madrid was easy during the first stage of the pandemic, but we are still seeing the consequences. We are going bankrupt,” she told Antena 3 television Sunday. “I don't know how many companies continue to lose jobs and opportunities every single day and therefore we have to apply creative formulas.”

Cristina Pastor, wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, exercises at a boxing gym in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP PhotoBernat Armangue)

Men wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, exercise at a boxing gym in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP PhotoBernat Armangue)

Two men walk in the upmarket neighborhood of Salamanca in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. The extended region around Madrid, comprising a population of 6.6 million, is struggling to control coronavirus outbreaks. Heightened restrictions in some of Madrid's working-class neighborhoods brought a heated debate over the prevalence of inequality in Spain. (AP PhotoBernat Armangue)