Basque region of Spain restricts gatherings as cases rise

The Spanish Basque region on Tuesday announced new restrictions on gatherings to control its latest wave of coronavirus, after months in which Spain has established itself as a country that had largely brought the pandemic under control, notably thanks to a rate of high vaccination.

The virus has spread unevenly in Spain in recent weeks, and infection rates in the Basque region and neighboring Navarre are now more than double the national average. Lawmakers in the worst-affected regions are leading a nation-wide debate over whether Spain should reintroduce more restrictions to prevent a serious resurgence of Covid-19 this winter.

The Basque regional government has said that all areas where the infection rate exceeds 150 cases per 100,000 population should suspend mass events and other gatherings, especially those where food and drink are served and where distancing social could not be guaranteed. The 14-day average infection rate in the region topped just over 180 per 100,000 residents over the weekend, compared to a national rate Monday of 82 cases per 100,000 residents, according to Spain’s health ministry.

The regional government has said it will also ask Basque justice to require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for people seeking to enter restaurants and nightclubs.

“We are not doing well,” Gotzone Sagardui, regional health minister, told a press conference, adding that the virus was spreading again “at an alarming rate of growth.”

Spanish health regulators lowered the country’s status to “low risk” in October after infection rate fell nationwide from a summer peak of more than 700 cases per 100,000 population in late July . This improvement has been largely attributed to a successful vaccination campaign, and 79 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

Booster shots are now given to people over 70 or living in nursing homes, and the Spanish government is expected to offer vaccines to children under 12 soon.

At the same time, however, the country’s response to the pandemic has recently involved a patchwork of restrictions put in place by regional governments, which are responsible for healthcare.

Iñigo Urkullu, the head of the Basque region, has led a campaign to demand vaccination in certain sectors of activity – as has generally happened in Italy and other countries – and urged the Spanish central government to establish national rules.

Ximo Puig, the head of the eastern region of Valencia, also recently said his government was considering requiring vaccination passes for entry to certain sites.