Four friends sat around a table in Madrid’s central La Latina neighbourhood and enjoyed a round of beers in the late Monday morning sun, a toast to rediscovered freedoms.
A year ago, it would have seemed like a perfectly ordinary spring day in the Spanish capital, but for most of its residents today, it was almost a landmark event.
It was the first day after more than two months of a strict lockdown that citizens were able to meet up with friends and family from other households in groups of no more than 10 people.
Monday was also the first day that the city’s restaurants, cafes and bars could reopen outside seating areas, albeit partially, as part of the first phase of the government’s four-stage easing of the lockdown.
The terrace itself was sparsely populated, just four of the usual eight tables laid out with a distance of two meters between each.
Wearing gloves and a mask, the waiter milled around the handful of people who had managed to grab a seat.
His tray was laden with the usual accoutrements of a Spanish cafe, stainless steel jugs of milk — one hot, one lukewarm — and ashtrays, as well less usual ones, like a bottle of disinfectant and a cloth to wipe down the plastic chairs and tables after every customer.
Madrid’s city council on Monday also reopened the city’s green spaces, including the central Retiro Park.
They promptly filled up with runners and cyclists who had until now been restricted to busy sidewalks and roads since outdoor activities were permitted at the beginning of the month.
Madrid’s outdoor chairs and tables, usually filled with locals and tourists this time of year, have been chained up inside since Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a state of alarm on 14 March.
The move heralded one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. The subsequent lack of tourists is noticeable not only in Spain’s streets but also in its economy.
Foreign visitors poured €92 billion into the economy last year, representing 12% of the country’s GDP and providing almost 13% of Spanish jobs.
In a bid to revive the industry and salvage what will be left of the summer season, the Socialist Party-led government said on Monday it would lift the requirement for people arriving in Spain to quarantine for a period of two weeks.
“The worst is behind us. From July we will gradually restart international tourism, we will lift the quarantine and ensure health and safety standards are met,” Arancha González Laya, the foreign minister, said in a message on social media.
All of the country has now made it to at least phase one of the de-escalation process, more than eight weeks after the lockdown was put in place.
Almost half of the country’s 47 million people woke up Monday in phase two – an even wider relaxation of rules, including opening shopping malls, increasing the number of clients allowed in bars and restaurants and even holding wedding celebrations.
Having peaked in late March and early April, the number of COVID-19 fatalities in Spain has dropped below 100 per day over the last week, with 50 recorded between Sunday and Monday.
The health ministry on Monday also revised the overall death toll down from 28,752 to 26,834 after ironing out errors in reported data.
Of those, 8,686 occurred in the Madrid region and 5,575 in Catalonia, the two hardest-hit regions that were also the last, along with a patchwork of provinces in Castile and Leon, to meet the criteria to ease their lockdowns.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]