The Catalan Government decided yesterday to take the bull by the horns and apply the bulk of the announced restrictions without waiting for them to be backed by the Catalan Supreme Court (CSC). Thus, for the next fifteen days at least, bars and restaurants will be closed, except for takeaways and hotel guests dining in the restaurant. The number of people allowed in shops, culture venues and gyms will also be limited. The only restrictions that the Generalitat has decided to leave "on hold" until the CSC's ruling are the three that could clash with fundamental rights: prohibition of meetings of more than six people, suspension of face-to-face activity in universities and limits on numbers allowed to attend religious services. The new measures were already published, at 1 a.m. in the Diari Oficial de la Generalitat de Catalunya(DOGC) and are therefore already in force.
The tug-of-war between the Government and the CSC once again showed that the fight against the virus is once again clashing with the justice system. On Thursday at noon the CSC asked the Government to specify the restrictions announced on Wednesday which affect fundamental rights, in order to pass judgement. The court also requested formal mistakesbe corrected, as the document did not include a signature, a decree number nor a date. A few hours later the Court confirmed that it had received a brief from the Government identifying which fundamental rights might be affected although the mistakes were yet to be corrected, leading to the CSC issuing a warning. In the same statement, the court announced that it would "foreseeably" respond today, meaning its backing remained unsure. This comes despite the Government having announced its intention for the measures to be in force today.
Restrictions on hold
To avoid waiting for the court ruling, the executive claimed the measures "are taken urgently to stem the increase in covid-19 infections and to stop contagion as soon as possible" and decided to apply immediately the bulk of the restrictions, which are those that do not affect fundamental rights. Hence, the controversial measures were published in the Diari Oficial de la Generalitat de Catalunya (DOGC) during the night. Nevertheless, they include a provision to suspend the three restrictions that may limit fundamental rights.
Thus, as of 1 a.m. on Friday, bars and restaurants, as well as beauty centres, clubs, gambling halls and casinos must remain closed; the number of people allowed in cinemas, theatres and other cultural venues is reduced by half, whilst in shops, markets and gyms it is limited to 30%.
The court's backing of the three pending measures, however, is a mere formality. The rule of six has already been in force (with the approval of the CSC) since September, but needs to be ratified again as it is now included in this new decree; lectures have been suspended since yesterday in all public universities without waiting for the CSC, and limits on attendance to religious ceremonies has always been approved in previous serious outbreaks in Catalonia.
Public Prosecutor gives green light
The Public Prosecutor did not object to the new health measures proposed by the Government, and the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, said on Thursday that he is only awaiting the Supreme Court to ratify them. Argimon insisted on defending the "tough" restrictions - which have been strongly opposed by the hospitality sector - because opting for softer ones would only have meant that "in two weeks or 10 days" even "more drastic" measures would have to be taken.
Whether 15 days are sufficient to contain the contagion remains to be seen. Argimon was not so categorical: he admitted that the measures will only be able to "slow down the transmission speed", but not flatten the curve. "I hope I'm wrong, but in principle these measures will only serve to stop the situation from escalating," he said. According to Argimon, the restrictions should simply allow the Department of Health to react to covid, rather than prevent. "The virus is running and we have to respond quickly," he acknowledged.
Argimon recalled that the data hastened the Government to act immediately: three weeks ago there were about 7,000 positive weekly, last week were 12,700 and the last days are recorded more than 2,000 per day, a rate much higher than expected by the council.