Spain to let children outside after more than a month under strict coronavirus lockdown

Relieved Spanish parents welcomed on Wednesday a decision allowing children out on short walks for the first time in more than a month as the government contemplated a broader easing of one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns by late May.

With the world’s second-most recorded infections at 208,389, and Europe’s second-highest death toll of 21,717, Spain’s tough restrictions have included a controversial ban on children leaving their homes since mid-March.

However, on Tuesday night, the government bowed to public pressure and said those under 14 would be able to take short walks outside under supervision from the weekend.

The cabinet had initially said children would only be allowed to accompany parents to buy food or medicine, provoking a social media backlash and pot-banging protests on balconies.

Parents welcomed the concession, although it came late for some, stretched to the limit after nearly six weeks cooped up at home.

Tantrums ‘in crescendo’

“The escalation of anxiety, tantrums, irascible behaviour … have been in crescendo,” said Dr. Iban Onandia, 35, a neuropsychologist in the Basque province of Bizkaia, adding that children had paid an “indecent” price during the lockdown.

“The truth is that the educational system we have is not up to the job either because they’ve left many children to their own devices, including my own,” said the father of two children, aged four and two.

A dance instructor teaches online at home with her daughter during the lockdown in Madrid on April 3. (La Jara Center via Getty Images)

Ramon Motta, a Madrid-based maitre d’hotel with two daughters Carla, 11, and Ariadna, 8, resorted to setting up a tent in their fifth-floor apartment to keep them entertained.

“We have Disney Plus, Netflix and video games, but you don’t want your kids spending five, six, seven hours in front of a screen, yet at the same time there’s not much else to do,” he said.

“After such a long time locked in, kids and parents start losing patience pretty quickly. A couple of times Carla went into a tantrum.”

Spaniards optimistic nightmare is easing

As his left-wing coalition marked 100 days in office, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought parliamentary approval to prolong a state of emergency until May 9 — the third such extension.

With the epidemic seemingly past its peak, the lockdown could start to be phased out toward the end of May, although measures will be eased gradually, he told lawmakers.

“We will be going back and forth depending on how the pandemic evolves.”

The photographer’s son and daughter watch a live stream during the girl’s birthday party on April 13 in Barcelona. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

A sharp slowdown in infections has Spaniards optimistic their nightmare may be easing, and officials are turning their attention to restarting the flagging economy.

Tomato-throwing fiesta off

In one sign of nascent recovery, carmaker Volkswagen’s Spanish unit SEAT, which employs around 15,000 people, said it plans to resume production from April 27, although with 3,000 coronavirus tests a week on its workforce to minimize risk.

But in the latest blow to Spain’s vital tourism industry, authorities in the Valencian town of Bunol postponed the 75th annual Tomatina festival, where thousands gather every August to pelt each other with fresh tomatoes.

It was the first cancellation since 1957.

On Tuesday, the San Fermin bull-running fiesta in Pamplona was also suspended, for the first time in four decades.

Spain has been pressing for a stronger European Union-wide economic response, including a 1.5 trillion euro ($2.3 trillion Cdn) fund financed by perpetual debt to support the bloc’s worst-hit members.

Sanchez said an initial consensus on the financial response should be reached at a summit on Thursday.

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