People sit in terraces near the harbour of Valencia, Spain, on May 9, 2021.
People sit in terraces near the harbour of Valencia, Spain, on May 9, 2021.
AFP Photo

Spain has lifted the state of emergency that's in place since October 2020 to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. Spaniards can now travel between regions for the first time in almost 6 months.

"It's like New Year's," said 28-year-old Oriol Corbella in Barcelona, where the lifting of the curfew was met with shouts, applause and music.

"We're getting a bit of normality back, of freedom, but we have to keep in mind that the virus is still around," he added.

"I was fed up with not being able to get out of Madrid," jewellery designer Blaca Valls told AFP on Saturday, echoing the relief of many in the country over the easing of restrictions.

The state of emergency involved measures such as nighttime curfews and a ban on non-essential travel between regions.

While intra-regional travel bans have ended and curfews have been lifted, not all of the restrictions have been dissolved altogether.

Different regions can still impose capacity limits in bars and restaurants and regulate opening hours. They can also seek court approval for stricter measures such as reimposing curfews, capping the number allowed at home gatherings or extending a ban on internal travel.

But the courts in the country, however, have offered different rulings, leading to a patchwork of measures across the country.

A court in the eastern Valencia region approved a midnight-to-6:00 am curfew, while the top court in the northern Basque Country said the area could not keep its nighttime curfew.

To avoid this scenario, several regions have lobbied Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's government to extend the emergency. But his administration has refused, saying the measures could not remain in place indefinitely, pointing out that the infection rate was stable and that Spain's vaccination programme was progressing rapidly.

State-owned rail operator Renfe says ticket sales for next week are up 13 percent over the last seven days.

But after more than a year of restrictions, and with the weather turning hot and sunny, the authorities have warned people against letting down their guard.

Spaniards must be careful "not to get the wrong impression about what ending the state of emergency means... it doesn't mean an end to the restrictions," the health ministry's emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said on Thursday.

Everyone must continue to behave responsibly, he insisted. "Nothing can be ruled out in terms of the evolution of the pandemic."

Spain, one of Europe's hardest-hit nations with nearly 79,000 deaths and 3.5 million infections.

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