An area in Spain’s Catalonia region has been plunged into a local coronavirus lockdown to halt a new outbreak as thousands of Brits prepare to arrive in the country on holiday.
Residents of El Segria, including the ancient city of Lleida, have been confined and roadblocks set up since midday on Saturday due to a worrying surge in cases that comes amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19.
The 30-plus affected municipalities are home to about 209,000 people. Residents will not be confined to their homes, but they will not be allowed to leave and no one is allowed to enter.
More than 60 new cases of Covid-19 were announced in the region on Friday – a day after 128 new infections were confirmed – taking the total to just over 4,000, according to the Ministry of Health.
It comes a day after Britain’s government announced that it had struck an air bridge agreement with Spain and more than 50 other countries, allowing quarantine-free travel from July 10.
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Everyone but essential workers will be barred from leaving and entering the region, which is about 100 miles west of Barcelona.
Residents currently outside the region were given until just 4pm to return to their homes.
There have been almost 10 local outbreaks within Lleida province – at four fruit companies, an agri-food company, a cluster of neighbours, a nursing home and a hostel for homeless people, the La Vanguardia newspaper reported.
An outbreak in Vall d’Aran involved people who attended a barbecue on June 16.
At least eight people who attended the barbecue have tested positive for the potentially deadly virus.
A mobile health area was set up on Friday to deal with the emergency, which comes shortly after Spain’s mortality rate returned to normal.
As the local lockdown was announced on Saturday, Catalonia’s regional president Quim Torra told reporters the “difficult” decision was made during an emergency meeting.
He said: “We have decided to confine Segria due to data that confirm too significant a growth in the number of Covid-19 infections.
“We are taking a step back to protect ourselves and control the outbreak.”
Health Minister Alba Verges said Lleida’s main hospital had six coronavirus patients in regular rooms and four in intensive care on June 22.
On Friday, it had 21 patients in regular rooms and six in intensive care.
Only groups of up to 10 people will be allowed to meet up, he said.
Mr Verges added: “The data from the last few days make us think that the incidence in this region is much higher than that of the rest of the country.”
The Health Ministry announced 17 new deaths on Friday – the highest one-day total since mid-June – along with 174 new infections, an increase of almost 40 from Thursday.
Catalonia’s Interior Minister Miquel Buch said people were given until 12pm to leave Segria before it went into lockdown again.
He has urged residents not to travel from town to town.
Residents will not be confined to their homes as was the case in Spain’s original strict lockdown in March.
Movement for work will be permitted, but from Tuesday workers entering or leaving the area will have to present a certificate from their employer.
Spain lifted its national state of emergency last month, allowing Britons to enter the country without having to quarantine for 14 days.
After imposing a strict lockdown on March 14, the government has been gradually easing restrictions in a multi-phase plan since early May.
Spain is on the UK government’s list of more than 50 countries and territories which English tourists can visit without self-isolating on their return from July 10.
Neighbouring Portugal’s tourism sector reacted with fury and disbelief at Britain’s decision to maintain a quarantine regime for travellers coming from Portugal despite having a higher number of coronavirus cases and deaths.
Spain has suffered one of the worst outbreaks in the world but has gradually emerged from a total lockdown as infections and deaths trended downwards.
As of Saturday morning, it had the sixth highest number of cases in the world (297,625) and the seventh worst death toll (28,385).
Catalonia has recorded 62,057 confirmed cases and 5,673 deaths.
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia basilica reopened on Saturday, giving key workers the chance to have the usually tourist-packed landmark to themselves in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
People took photos and listened to audio guides after Archbishop of Barcelona Joan Josep Omella led representatives of healthcare workers into the church.
The world famous building, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, closed almost four months ago. But for the next two weekends it will be open to essential workers, including those in healthcare, the police and NGOs, who will be able to explore without the usual crowds.
The goal is to recognise and pay tribute to Barcelona residents, “especially those who have been on the front lines fighting and working to prevent Covid-19”, according to a statement on the basilica’s website.