Spain to let children outside after more than a month under strict coronavirus lockdown
Country with world's second-most recorded COVID-19 cases aims to ease restrictions by late May
Relieved Spanish parents welcomed on Wednesday a decision allowing children out on short walks for the first time in more than a month as the government voted to extend Spain's lockdown until May 9.
With Europe's second highest death toll of 21,717 and the world's second-most recorded infections at 208,389, Spain's tough restrictions have included a controversial ban on children leaving their homes since mid-March.
However, on Tuesday night, the government bowed to public pressure — including pot-banging protests on balconies — and said those under 14 would be able to take short walks outside under supervision from the weekend.
Parents welcomed the concession, although it came late for some, after nearly six weeks cooped up at home.
Tantrums 'in crescendo'
"The escalation of anxiety, tantrums, irascible behaviour ... have been in crescendo," said Dr. Iban Onandia, 35, a neuropsychologist in the Basque province of Bizkaia, adding that children had paid an "indecent" price during the lockdown.
"The truth is that the educational system we have is not up to the job either because they've left many children to their own devices, including my own," said the father of two children, aged four and two.
Ramon Motta, a Madrid-based maitre d'hotel with two daughters Carla, 11, and Ariadna, 8, resorted to setting up a tent in their fifth-floor apartment to keep them entertained.
"We have Disney Plus, Netflix and video games, but you don't want your kids spending five, six, seven hours in front of a screen, yet at the same time there's not much else to do," he said.
"After such a long time locked in, kids and parents start losing patience pretty quickly. A couple of times Carla went into a tantrum."
Children under 14 will be allowed outside between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. for up to one hour a day and must be accompanied by an adult with whom they live, according to a provisional government document seen by La Sexta television.
Children can "run, jump and exercise" but will not be allowed to use play parks and must respect social distancing rules, says the document, which is still under debate and could change.
Spaniards optimistic nightmare is easing
As his left-wing coalition marked 100 days in office, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought parliamentary approval to prolong a state of emergency until May 9 — the third such extension.
With the epidemic seemingly past its peak, the lockdown could start to be phased out toward the end of May, although measures will be eased gradually, he told lawmakers.
A slowdown in infections and deaths has Spaniards optimistic their nightmare may be easing. The official tally, however, fails to account for those who were more than likely killed by the virus but never tested.
The Madrid region on Wednesday released its own tally, showing 4,275 extra deaths confirmed or suspected as COVID-19, or 56 per cent more than health ministry data. Nearly 4,000 of these were care home residents.
Nevertheless, officials were increasingly focused on restarting the flagging economy.
Tomato-throwing fiesta off
In another sign of nascent recovery, vehicle manufacturer Volkswagen's Spanish unit SEAT, which employs around 15,000 people, said it plans to resume production from April 27, although with 3,000 coronavirus tests a week on its workforce to minimize risk.
Nissan also said on Wednesday it would restart production in Barcelona from May 4.
Spain was set to receive the highest level of orders ever for a euro zone bond sale — 15 billion euros ($22.96 billion Cdn) — as debt for stimulus programs drew high demand.
But in a blow to tourism, authorities in the Valencian town of Bunol postponed the 75th annual Tomatina festival, where thousands gather every August to pelt each other with fresh tomatoes.
It was the first cancellation since 1957.
On Tuesday, the San Fermin bull-running fiesta in Pamplona was also suspended, for the first time in four decades.