Barcelona back under lockdown as virus cases surge

The new restrictions came barely four weeks after Spain ended its state of emergency when its 47 million residents were subjected to one of the world’s toughest lockdowns. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 July 2020

Barcelona back under lockdown as virus cases surge

  • The Catalan regional government urged nearly four million residents of metropolitan Barcelona to stay home unless absolutely necessary, banning gatherings of over 10 people and shutting cinemas, theaters and nightclubs
  • The new restrictions came barely four weeks after Spain ended its state of emergency when its 47 million residents were subjected to one of the world’s toughest lockdowns

BARCELONA: Barcelona’s streets were largely empty on Saturday, with millions of people instructed to stay at home as new coronavirus restrictions came into effect following a spike in the number of infections in the region over the past week.
“It’s a disaster,” wails Maria Quintana, looking at her empty bar terrace by the Sagrada Familia in Spain’s second city where the number of new cases has tripled to 800 in a week.
In an announcement on Friday, the Catalan regional government urged nearly four million residents of metropolitan Barcelona to stay home unless absolutely necessary, banning gatherings of over 10 people and shutting cinemas, theaters and nightclubs.
“We’d just started to see things coming back to life with the arrival of a few foreign tourists, so this is a step backwards,” said Quintana, who has been in the restaurant business for 35 years.
With a ban on counter service, there are no stools at the bar, and there were no customers outside either, where the tables were well spaced.
“If they impose another lockdown and force us to close, I will drop the blind, but it might as well be dropping the blade of a guillotine on my own neck because we won’t be able to survive,” the bar owner said.
The new restrictions came barely four weeks after Spain ended its state of emergency when its 47 million residents were subjected to one of the world’s toughest lockdowns to slow the spread of a virus that has killed more than 28,400 people in the country.
The national lockdown, which also saw Spain’s borders closed, caused huge economic damage, particularly to the tourism sector which had hoped to recoup some of its losses over the summer.
But by Saturday morning, there were barely any tourists outside the Sagrada Familia, one of Spain’s most-visited landmarks, and most of those were unaware of the new restrictions.
“There are not lot of people in the street, but we did not know,” said 23-year-old Karolina Kapounova from the Czech Republic, sweating behind a face mask which is now obligatory in public at all times in most of Spain’s regions.
“I don’t think we will change our schedule... But with (your) mouth covered all the time and the heat, it’s a bit bothersome.”
“You see some tourists but only a few of them. And then they come and see that the Sagrada Familia is shut and that the bus isn’t working,” says Joan Lopez, 39, who runs a kiosk opposite the imposing basilica.
Although the city “needs tourism like the air that we breathe,” Lopez said he is relieved the authorities are taking strict measures to reduce the virus.
“People don’t listen to recommendations,” he said.
“Today the city seems empty, but that’s because they all went away for the weekend... before they shut us in.”
Although the regional government asked residents not to leave for second homes, traffic authorities registered the departure of 350,000 vehicles heading for nearby coastal areas.
“It’s a mistake,” warned Dr. Jacobo Mendioroz, the region’s COVID chief, in remarks to the Rac1 radio station.
“The next step will be (mandatory) home confinement.”
Olga Torres, who is having a drink with a friend on a bar terrace, hopes it will not come to that.
“It’s not funny, the thought that they could lock us down again, but I think they’ll consider it very carefully because, economically, it would spell catastrophe,” said Torres, 55.
The surge in new cases has led to fierce criticism of Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government for not being better prepared.
During the lockdown, the Catalan leadership had bitterly criticized the central government in Madrid, insisting they would have done a much better job if they had been independent.
“Bad management has landed us with a new confinement order,” read an editorial in the Ara daily, which is close to the separatist movement.


Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

This handout photo taken on June 2, 2018, shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gesturing as he gives his departure speech at the Manila International airport. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2020

Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

  • European lawmakers urge Filipino authorities to drop charges against acclaimed journalist, opposition senator

MANILA: Philippine human rights groups on Friday welcomed a European Parliament resolution denouncing extrajudicial killings and abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

The document, adopted on Thursday, called for an “independent international investigation” into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, when Duterte took office.

It urged EU member states to support the resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan described the resolution as a “welcome step toward reckoning and accountability over the Duterte administration’s blatant disregard of its obligation to uphold human rights and civil liberties in the country.”

The group also called on the international community to continue to stand with human rights defenders in the Philippines and the Filipino people “who suffer in this worsening crisis of political repression and state violence under this increasingly tyrannical regime.”

The European Parliament condemned extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations related to Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which according to official figures has led to around 6,000 suspected drug offenders being killed by security forces. Rights groups, however, suggest the death toll may be much higher.

European lawmakers also urged Philippine authorities to renew the broadcast license of the country’s TV giant ABS-CBN and for charges to be dropped against acclaimed journalist and CEO of the Rappler news website, Maria Ressa, and detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

In addition, the European Parliament expressed “serious concern” over the new Anti-Terrorism Act enacted in July, which criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.”

It also granted the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists, allow authorities to make detentions without charge, and wiretapping.

Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said she hoped the EU resolution would “enjoin other governments and the international community at large to continue to take a strong stance in denouncing the Duterte administration’s attacks on human and people’s rights in the Philippines.”

She added: “The sham drug war has continued to kill the poor with impunity while human rights defenders face vilification, violence, and death for their work in exposing these human rights violations even in the middle of a pandemic (COVID-19).

“Domestic mechanisms have been ineffective and there has been outright failure in bringing the perpetrators of these gruesome crimes to justice. These attacks cannot continue, and the European Parliament’s resolution is a strong statement from the international community that there would be consequences for these abuses.”

EU lawmakers also called on the European Commission to suspend the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which provides tariff perks for Filipino goods, if there was no “substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities.”

In response to the resolution, Filipino Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “We are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” adding that the scheme was helping the country address poverty.

The president’s office, Malacanang Palace, said in a statement that the government was in talks with the UN on a framework to support national efforts to “uphold the human rights-based approach in governance.”