Spain bans Madrid Women's Day marches, limits Easter travel

by Reuters
Monday, 8 March 2021 15:19 GMT

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Demonstrators hold placards and a banners during a protest to mark the International Women's Day in Madrid, Spain March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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Spain plans to ban Women's Day Marches in Madrid and limit Easter travel to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 infections

By Inti Landauro

MADRID, March 4 (Reuters) - The Spanish government on Thursday banned marches to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8 in Madrid and proposed travel restrictions to prevent the Easter holidays sparking a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.

Last year's marches, which were attended by tens of thousands and promoted heavily by the left-wing coalition government, stirred a bitter row over whether they were super-spreader events for the coronavirus.

"The problem is the size of the crowds that would build up in a few hours and in a few places," the central government's chief representative to the region told a news conference.

Jose Manuel Franco said proposed marches on March 7-8, would have brought at least 60,000 people to the capital's streets.

Wary of celebrations in the run-up to Easter Sunday on April 4 causing a similar spike, the Health Ministry proposed banning travel between different regions and limiting social events to four people during Holy Week.

The plan, which needs to be ratified by Spain's 17 regions, will likely face opposition from some quarters, including Madrid, whose conservative regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso has said she would prefer to avoid any lockdowns.

Spain's number of infections per 100,000 people as measured over the past two weeks has dropped sharply to an average of 153 cases, recovering from 900 in late January's record surge triggered by loosened restrictions over Christmas.

With 253 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, down from Wednesday's 261, Madrid has the country's highest incidence of the virus bar the north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

A year ago, thousands of people, including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and half his cabinet, marched in Madrid when the virus was already circulating in Spain. A week later his government imposed one of Europe's strictest lockdowns as contagion and deaths soared.

Opposition leaders slammed Sanchez for allowing the marches, although the Health Ministry played down their role in spreading the virus. Gender Equality Minister Irene Montero tested positive days after the marches.

After Thursday's ban was announced, Montero, a staunch feminist, said she would respect public health recommendations and would not participate in marches, warning though against any attempts to curb the feminist movement.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Nathan Allen; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Alexandra Hudson)