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Beaches open in Barcelona as Spain decides on next steps of lockdown exit

by Reuters
Friday, 8 May 2020 11:16 GMT

(Adds new figures, quotes)

By Inti Landauro and Jordi Rubio

MADRID/BARCELONA, May 8 (Reuters) - The Spanish government will decide on Friday in which regions bars, restaurants and places of worship will open under the next phase of a gradual exit from the coronavirus lockdown.

However, it looked likely that such closures would stay in place in the capital Madrid and the Catalonia region, which together account for nearly half of Spain's cases of infection.

In one sign of life returning to normal, Barcelona beaches opened for a short window from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Friday to allow people to swim and jog. People paddled on boards and swam in the water under the supervision of police.

"This is freedom," said a smiling swimmer, Marta Torrents, speaking on the beach dressed in a wet-suit. "To be able to go out to sea and swim - for me, this is perfect."

Spain's daily death toll from the coronavirus rose to 229 on Friday, up from 213 on the previous day, the health ministry reported.

Overall deaths rose to 26,299 from 26,070 on Thursday and the number of diagnosed cases rose to 222,857 up from 221,447 the day before, the ministry said.

Half of the new cases in Spain in the past 24 hours were in Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona.

Nonetheless, said health emergency chief Fernando Simon, "going outside and improving our quality of life is perfectly compatible with continuing the safety measures".

Spain has been one of the worst-hit countries globally and is just emerging from a strict lockdown, now in its eighth week, which kept people indoors, battered the economy and led to hundreds of thousands of job losses.

The government will decide which regions will move to the second phase of its four-stage exit on Friday and the results will be officially published on Saturday. It is aiming for a return to normality by end-June.

"There are two areas more severely hit by the epidemic - Madrid and Barcelona - and it is perhaps reasonable that in these two areas the exit goes at a slower pace," Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias said in a radio interview on Friday.

The government has loosened the terms of the lockdown this week, with people allowed to take exercise and small businesses like hairdressers receiving clients with restrictions to allow social distancing.

Under the next stage, bars, restaurants and places of worship will be able to open with limited capacity.

In the fourth and final phase, expected around the end of June, beaches will open for sun-bathing and restrictions on shops and restaurants will be further loosened.

"We have a more intense social life than in other European countries and sometimes it's difficult to comply with social-distancing rules, but we must keep it up a while longer," Simon told a news briefing.

"It won't be for long but if we don't maintain the measures now perhaps it will take longer than we want." (Writing By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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