Madrid seeks Spanish army’s help to fight virus surge

Spanish soldiers disinfect Nuevos Ministerios Subway Station in Madrid back in March. (AP pic)

MADRID: Madrid’s regional government chief requested the army’s help on Monday in fighting the coronavirus surge in the Spanish capital where local authorities ordered a partial lockdown of some poorer districts, prompting protests.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic in March-April, Spain deployed thousands of troops to help civilian authorities contain the outbreak.

A recent spike in infections, peaking at over 10,000 per day, took cumulative cases above 670,000 as of Monday, the highest in Western Europe, while the number of deaths from the Covid-19 respiratory disease in Spain stood at 30,663.

“We need help from the army for disinfection … and to strengthen local police and law enforcement,” Isabel Diaz Ayuso told a news briefing after meeting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in an attempt to reduce contagion in Spain’s worst-hit region.

She also requested that makeshift hospitals be set up again, about three months after they were decommissioned when Spain emerged from its strict lockdown having reduced contagion rates.

Sanchez said the central and regional governments would determine the size of the military and police reinforcements at a meeting later on Monday, the first of a series of meetings on tackling the situation in the capital region.

Meanwhile, residents in the southern district of Vallecas, one of the areas where a partial lockdown took effect on Monday, were upset but resigned to the curbs as police stopped cars getting in and out of the neighbourhood.

Ayuso’s government had ordered mobility restrictions in areas where a total of 850,000 people live, sparking discrimination complaints and protests.

Madrid authorities said they had chosen those areas because Covid-19 transmission levels there exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 people.

But some residents complained that the measures, which allow people to go to work or school, failed to address the problem of an overcrowded transport system where the virus could spread fast.

“It is horrendous and bad, because it is discrimination. They should regulate the metro, (where) we are packed like sardines,” Marina, a Vallecas housewife, told Reuters.

Local businesses were starting to feel the pinch. “We had no business this morning, it is empty,” said John Michael Montana Sanchez, who manages three restaurants on the same street in Vallecas. “I have 16 employees and I will start giving them holidays as I don’t know what will happen next.”

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