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Spain's regions at odds over keeping COVID curfew

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk past bar customers after bars reopened in Spain's Basque Country, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bilbao

MADRID (Reuters) - The Basque Country's top court on Friday ruled that the region must stop its current COVID-19 curfew, while a court in Valencia approved continuing the measure, in a sign of the confusion that could be in store when Spain ends its national state of emergency this weekend.

Imposed last October to curb a rampant second wave of infections, the state of emergency allowed the central government to temporarily enforce a nationwide 11 p.m. curfew as well as local travel bans and lockdowns.

When it ends, each of Spain's 17 regions must individually seek approval from local courts to continue such measures, likely creating a kaleidoscope of diverging restrictions and legal battles.

The regional government of the Basque Country, the northern region that neighbours France, had asked for permission to keep restrictions in place. As of Thursday, it has the highest coronavirus incidence rate per 100,000 people, at 463.

But the region's top court said the curfew, and other restrictions such as limits on the number of people who can meet up, must end because they "affect the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution".

Basque regional president Inigo Urkullu said on Thursday he would not appeal to the Supreme Court, a last resort for regions, if the measures were struck down.

In Valencia on Friday, a court approved a 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, highlighting the potentially chaotic patchwork of measures that will come info force in Spain from Sunday.

Some regions, however, are keen to see the back of restrictions. Madrid, where right-wing regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso just won reelection after campaigning on looser measures, will lift its coronavirus curfew, regional leaders said on Friday.

"There is no (legal) coverage for adopting strict judicial measures such as curfews," said regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero at a press conference. "We trust the responsibility of citizens."

Madrid is just behind the Basque Country with the second-highest COVID-19 incidence rate in Spain, at 324 per 100,000 people.

(Reporting by Jessica Jones; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)