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Barcelona mulls restrictions as Spain fights new virus clusters


Police officers tell at a woman in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, that the use of a face mask is mandatory (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Police officers tell at a woman in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, that the use of a face mask is mandatory (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Police officers tell at a woman in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, that the use of a face mask is mandatory (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Barcelona may bring back some restrictions on daily life after the number of coronavirus cases tripled in a week, its mayor said on Wednesday, as around 160,000 people in another part of Catalonia went back under lockdown to stem a new surge in cases.

Just weeks after a nationwide lockdown was lifted and life returned largely to normal as infection rates dropped, Spain's second-most populous region reported on Tuesday three deaths and 938 new coronavirus cases.

Some 63% of those new cases were detected in Barcelona and its surroundings, fuelling fears the regional capital and popular tourist destination might again become an epicentre of the virus.

"What worries us the most would be to lose control of infections," Mayor Ada Colau told Ser Catalunya radio.

She cited informal gatherings without proper protection as the main cause. There are 29 coronavirus outbreaks in Spain's second largest city, officials said.

"We are not talking about total confinement as in previous months, but I think some measures have to be taken more widely," Colau said. She did not say what activities might be restricted, adding this would be discussed in the next two days.

The wearing of masks indoors and outdoors in public is already mandatory in Catalonia.

Regional tensions

Tourism-dependent Spain, one of Europe's hardest-hit countries with more than 28,000 deaths from the pandemic, emerged from a strict national lockdown on June 21. Since then, more than 170 clusters have sprung up, prompting regional authorities to impose a patchwork of local restrictions, confusing locals and angering businesses.

Tensions have been particularly high in Catalonia.

The wealthy north-eastern region of 7.5 million people is seeing the biggest number of new cases and its acrimonious push for independence in recent years has kept relations strained between its separatist leaders and the central government in Madrid.

Just as a judge approved, after an initial rejection, the regional government's stay-at-home order for some 160,000 residents of the Lleida area, about 180 km (110 miles) west of Barcelona, tensions rose over how to handle an increase in cases in Barcelona suburb L'Hospitalet, home to around 260,000 people.

Another judge struck down overnight a restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people in three L'Hospitalet neighbourhoods, but the Catalan government said it would appeal against the ruling and urged people to stay home.

While Catalonia is the first region to reimpose a lockdown, parts of Galicia have been sealed off to visitors and a Basque town imposed a curfew to tackle their own outbreaks.

A survey by CIS pollster showed on Wednesday that more than 62% of Spaniards were in favour of stricter measures to combat outbreaks when needed. (Reporting by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus

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