Freedom at last!
“We were getting desperate to go out for a coffee,” say Valencia residents
By Samantha Kett
MORE of the Valencia region opened up this week with residents in 58% of towns and villages and all three provincial capitals enjoying new-found freedom after two whole calendar months stuck at home.
Until Monday, just 10 of the region's 24 hospital catchment areas were on 'Phase 1' of 'unlocking', with the others remaining on 'Phase 0', a position they shared with Madrid – Spain's worst-hit Covid-19 region.
L'Horta Sud, Nord and Oest – the Valencia city ' home counties', covering 43 towns – finally came back to life with bars, restaurants and ice-cream parlours setting up their terraces again, and most did opt to do so even though they cannot yet allow customers inside.
“The truth is, we were all getting desperate to open again,” said Ricardo, owner of Avelina ice-cream shop in Torrent.
He only plans to open in the mornings for the present, meaning one of his two employees is still on 'ERTE', or temporarily laid off.
Customers were heard to say, “it's about time,” and “we were getting desperate.”
Torrent has offered bars the chance to expand their terraces free of charge until lockdown is completely over, and several towns across the province – Llíria (Camp de Túria), Llombai (Ribera Alta) and Benifaió (Ribera Baixa) have announced no 'terrace tax' will be charged until the end of the year. Nearly all shops in the three Horta districts opened on Monday to queues of customers.
Other parts of the province now on their fifth day of being able to go out for a coffee or pop to a shop are the two Riberas, to the south of Valencia; the Camp de Morvedre north of Valencia, the capital of which is Sagunto, all of Valencia city, and the parts of the Camp de Túria to its west which came within its hospitals' catchment areas.
By Dave Jones and Alex Watkins THE VALENCIA government revealed on Tuesday evening that they have opted not to apply for phase two status of the government’s exit plan – despite stating at the weekend that they were hoping to move forward.
Progression from phase one on Monday (May 25) to the next stage would have brought increased freedoms for businesses and residents, including the use of the interiors of bars and restaurants.
The healthcare authorities defended their decision, stating that there had been an increase in coronavirus infections in the 10 healthcare areas granted phase one status on May 11.
In Alicante province these were Orihuela, Torrevieja, Marina Baixa, Dénia, Alcoy and Elda.
Deputy director of epidemiology, Hermelinda Vanaclocha explained that the ‘basic reproduction rate’ of the disease had gone up from 0.66 to 0.85 in these areas.
“This increase has occurred since the 10 departments went into phase one so we think it is prudent to study the evolution which occurs in the remaining 14 departments which went into phase one on May 18,” she said.
Regional councillor for health Ana Barceló noted: “A lot of thought went into this decision and we opted to come down on the side of caution.
“Our principal obligation is to protect the health of our people.”
Phase one – all together now
Healthcare departments ceased to be the ‘zone of reference’ on Monday (May 18) for the government exit plan in the Valencia region.
It is now based on provinces (Alicante, Valencia and Castellón) as was originally envisaged by PM Pedro Sánchez when he outlined the exit plan in April. This means that residents can travel anywhere in their province to use hotels and access other services permitted in phase one.
The health ministry gave the green light last Friday (May 15) for the remaining 14 healthcare departments to pass into phase one and join the 10 zones which entered this stage on Monday (May 11), meaning that the whole of the region is now in the same phase.
Efforts to contain the virus during the deescalation process will focus on early detection of cases and tracing any people they may have had contact with, explained regional president Ximo Puig.
To assist primary attention health workers and make this tracing ‘as thorough as possible’, an additional 1,210 people are being hired.
Health councillor Ana Barceló told the regional parliament they had been able to carry out tracing from the first contagion on February 25 until March 14, the start of the state of emergency.
But this was only possible in 254 cases (17,73% of the total), for whom they identified 559 close contacts of which 36.5% also tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the report sent by the regional health department to the ministry for health. In health departments around the region well over 90% of new cases were not contacts of previously confirmed cases so it was not possible to confirm who they had caught it from.
Sra Barceló added: “Our goal is to achieve the best possible tracing of all the contagions which occur during the exit period.”
Murcia regional government has requested phase two status for the whole region – except Totana municipality from Monday (May 25) – with some restrictions to reduce the risk of infection. According to the regional government, meetings and gatherings will remain limited to 10 people – not 15 – and outdoor cultural events will be limited to 100 people.
The Valencia government is believed to be negotiating with the ministry for health over increased usage of the beaches to allow people to swim in the sea.
President Puig said they are drawing up ‘recommendations’ for town halls so they can ensure the beaches can be enjoyed safely.
They were asked to take part in a video conference yesterday (Thursday) to hear the government’s plans for ‘security protocols’ for beaches, which ‘are due to be approved in the coming days’.
Beaches are just for exercise at the moment