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The Spaniards took to the streets in the early hours of Sunday morning to celebrate the end of 202 days of nationwide coronavirus restrictions that had restricted travel between regions, largely banned social gatherings and put citizens in curfews since last fall.
In scenes reminiscent of the pre-COVID New Year celebrations, thousands gathered in central squares in most of the country’s cities to mark the end of the “state of alarm” measures adopted by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government on October 25 last year.
Videos on social media showed groups of people Drink and To sing In the Puerta del Sol in Madrid and in Seville, local media reported that exuberant crowds lead to a reproduction of “Bella Ciao“Because the restrictions expired at midnight. In Barcelona, a senior city official said local police had evicted 6,500 people from 31 different street festivals because drinking alcohol was banned on the streets of the city.
The Spanish government placed a “state of alert” to slow the spread of COVID-19 amid the second wave that devastated Europe last fall.
Shortly after the measures came into force, Sánchez set himself the goal of reducing the two-week infection rate to below 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The number stood at 170 per 100,000 on Sunday, a little less than half the value when the decree was passed last fall, and the government decided enough progress had been made in the fight against the pandemic to relax the rules.
The nationwide measures have been fiercely fought by conservative leaders such as Madrid’s regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who insisted on keeping the capital’s bars and restaurants open, and accusing Sánchez of trying to use the restrictions to suppress citizens’ freedom.
Ayuso was re-elected for a second term last week after a campaign focused mainly on her opposition to the national government.
The Mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida sentenced The street festivals reminded revelers that drinking outdoors was forbidden in Madrid, adding that “freedom is not defined by breaking the rules”.
The power to impose further measures in connection with coronaviruses is now transferred to the regional administrations, which leads to various restrictions across the country: While there is still a curfew at 11 p.m. in Navarra, there is no such rule in the neighboring region of Aragón, for example .
The lifting of the measures is expected to lead to an increase in travel within Spain, where several regions have been cordoned off for months to contain the virus. Online travel agency Rumbo.es reported that vacation package sales had increased by up to 68 percent in the past week.
As in Spain, the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in Belgium this weekend led to mass gatherings in cities like Brussels and Leuven on Saturday night, with thousands packed in restaurant and bar terraces that have been closed since early autumn.
Over 1,000 people gathered celebrating in and around Place Flagey in Brussels, setting off fireworks and reacting furiously when the police tried to evacuate the square in the early hours of Sunday morning. According to the latest Belgian rules, only 10 people should gather outside.
Belgian COVID-19 spokesman Yves Van Laethem, who likened the celebrations to a champagne cork popping out of a bottle, said exuberant mass gatherings were to be expected, but added that such scenes “must not be repeated” if the Infection rates should be kept low.