New lockdown measures disproportionately affect the most economically vulnerable people in the capital region.
Every weekday morning, Jorge Sánchez leaves home in Puente de Vallecas, one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of Madrid, and drives 16km to his job as a gardener tending a public park in an affluent district of the city.
Puente de Vallecas was one of 45 Madrid districts locked down last week as the authorities struggle to cope with a second wave of coronavirus infections sweeping the capital region, but Sánchez is still allowed to commute to the leafy neighbourhood where he works.
Home to about 230,000 inhabitants, Puente de Vallecas normally gets less crowded during the day as residents commute to work in other parts of Madrid, mostly travelling on public transport. But under renewed lockdown measures that include the closure of public spaces like parks and restricted hours for bars and restaurants, the streets of the district, which was hit hard by the virus's first wave, are again almost completely deserted.
In the city centre, by contrast, life goes on as normal as it can in a pandemic, with masked shoppers on the streets and customers keeping social distance as they eat and drink at tapas bars and restaurants until late at night.
The sharp difference between the two Madrids underlines how the coronavirus is hitting the most economically vulnerable districts of the capital disproportionately hard.
The latest partial lockdown was ordered to contain a second wave of infections that is threatening to overwhelm Madrid's hospitals as the first did last spring. Then, the whole country was put under a state of emergency that lasted from March to late June.
The Madrid areas locked down this time — for a two-week period, at least initially — were singled out because they had superseded the threshold of 1,000 registered coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants. So far, the capital region has been the epicentre for Spain's second wave, with about one-third of the new cases registered nationally since the summer.
The 1 million people living in the 45 locked-down neighbourhoods are increasingly chafing at the restrictions, especially since they can see that residents of affluent areas are free to travel most places they like.
Residents are allowed to leave locked-down districts only for work, school or medical emergencies, and police checkpoints have been set up to ensure compliance.
On Thursday evening, Sánchez joined about 300 other residents in a street demonstration against the lockdown, which he called "our new form of segregation."
While he appreciates the fact that he can still work, he is angry that he is no longer allowed to visit his parents in a nursing home outside Puente de Vallecas.
"It hurts to be told that I should prioritise work and forget about seeing my parents," he said. "It shows to me that all of this is driven by economics, with no genuine interest in our well-being."
Many residents of the locked-down districts also realize that affluent neighbourhoods need them to stay open themselves.
Without the workforce that commutes from Vallecas and other southern districts, "the rest of Madrid knows that it simply cannot function," said María José García Berral, a retired nurse.
The impositions on the poorer districts do not make sense, she added.
"You cannot justify on medical grounds a lockdown that still allows our residents to enter a crowded subway but not then enjoy our own public parks," she said.
Anger in the districts was inflamed after Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid's regional leader, said that the spike in cases was partly because of immigrants' "way of life." Many residents of the districts being locked down are immigrants, many of them from Latin America but also Africa and the Middle East.
"This health crisis has nothing to do with a way of life but a lot to do with people's living conditions," said Patricia Estevan, a doctor in Puente de Vallecas. "If you share a tiny apartment and travel across the city on public transport every day to work as a supermarket cashier or cleaner, that is not a choice of life but an economic necessity."
Spain's health minister, Salvador Illa, recently called on Madrid's regional government to tighten restrictions on the whole of the city rather than selected areas. The national Health Ministry on Tuesday proposed a new set of lockdown criteria that would be applied not only to the whole of Madrid but also nationwide. That proposal was being considered on Wednesday by the capital region's government.
The dispute over Madrid's selective lockdown has highlighted the extent to which Spain's central and regional governments have largely failed to coordinate their responses to the pandemic, fueling a partisan political blame game. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez leads Spain's left-wing coalition government, but the capital is among the regions administered by a right-wing coalition, led by Díaz Ayuso.
Madrid's own politics also mirror its social divisions, with Puente de Vallecas traditionally home to a staunchly left-wing electorate. But some residents agree that Díaz Ayuso needed to address the soaring infection rate in their district.
Sandra Perdomo Mebreño gets up at 5am to go to work, traveling for two hours by subway and bus to reach an area north of Madrid where she cleans three villas.
"I'm fine with the lockdown because if we don't bring people's behavior fully under control, we will never stop this virus," Perdomo Mebreño said. "All I really need is to stay healthy and continue to work and get paid for it."
In Puente de Vallecas itself, however, the renewed lockdown has hit local businesses that had only just started to recover from the first wave.
"I was closed for three months during the first lockdown, things then picked up over the summer, and now I've suddenly lost many clients again," said Víctor Gil, a gym owner and martial arts instructor. "I understand that you need safety measures in the neighbourhoods that are worst affected by the virus, but where is the extra financial help needed for those who have to keep a business going here under lockdown?"
Since March, the central government has been compensating employees furloughed during the crisis, but no specific financial help has been offered in relation to the regional lockdowns in Madrid.
A block away from Gil's gym, Ingry Osorio Martínez said that the closure of a standing bar in her cafe — the new restrictions allow only table service — drove away clients who used to stop by for a coffee or a quick breakfast.
Many residents have been pressing the government to increase funding for health care and social services for the district.
There has been some relief. On Thursday, Estevan's clinic received new phones, which she said felt like "getting a Christmas present," since she and her colleagues spent much of the spring trying to convince the government that a new phone system was needed to help battle the coronavirus.
Until now, their call center had just one incoming phone line for the 29,000 residents the clinic serves, which she called "a disastrous situation when people are desperately calling for help and advice."
But at a time when Spain is sinking into one of Europe's deepest recessions, the residents of Puente de Vallecas are not expecting much more in terms of government largesse.
The latest lockdown could have other long-term damaging effects by stigmatising the district, said Jorge Nacarino, the president of the Puente de Vallecas neighbourhood association.
Even if the authorities once again alter Madrid's lockdown rules, "the damage to our reputation has already been done," Nacarino said. "The people here now know that they have been singled out as culprits for this coronavirus situation."
Written by: Raphael Minder
Photographs by: Gianfranco Tripodo
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