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Spain local lockdown measures ‘helping keep people alert’

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Police officers guard a barrier to stop people entering the beach, in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Police officers guard a barrier to stop people entering the beach, in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, July 18, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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The return of coronavirus-related restrictions in several Spanish regions is keeping citizens on their toes and forcing them to take social distancing more seriously, a public health expert told Euronews.

Since the government lifted strict nationwide confinement measures in June, more than 200 new clusters of the virus have appeared, mostly in and around the Catalan cities of Barcelona and Lleida.

Last Friday (July 17), the Catalan regional government urged some four million people – including all residents of Barcelona – to stay at home and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. It also told bars and restaurants to reduce their capacity.

As other European countries brace for a potential second wave of COVID-19, Jeffrey Lazarus, of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, said the main lesson that can be drawn from Spain these days is "to really be vigilant".

"Every time there is about a half a dozen reported cases or so that are concentrated in any way, it's labelled an outbreak, and specific measures are taken," Lazarus said, citing how authorities in the Catalan city of Lleida had closed off the entire area after an outbreak.

"That really does two things. One, it breaks the onward transmission. But it also keeps the population vigilant," he said. "Nobody wants to be confined, nobody wants to be locked down."

By seeing authorities react strongly to these new outbreaks, Lazarus explained, citizens become more alert and attuned to the preventative measures they can take to reduce their chances of infection, such as wearing face masks and frequently washing their hands.

He said risks of contagious rise when people come into close contact with each other in bars or at the beach, or when they try on clothes in shops, touch door handles, sink faucets and forget to clean their hands immediately afterwards.

Spain has been one of the countries hit the hardest by COVID-19 so far, with more than 28,000 deaths and over a quarter of a million confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The mandatory use of face masks is rapidly spreading across Spain. But a key challenge is to ensure that as people relax into the summer holidays, they don’t let their guard down.

Police in Barcelona closed down access to a large area of the city's beaches last weekend (July 18) after too many sunbathers ignored authorities' stay-at-home order.

Spain’s health minister said on Monday (July 20) that most of the new outbreaks of coronavirus were connected one the one hand to infections among seasonal fruit pickers, and on the other hand to laxer social distancing in bars, night clubs, parties and large family gatherings.

"The real problem is not that people aren't wearing face masks," Lazarus said.

"It's those moments when they take them off – when they're at a bar, when they're at a restaurant, when they're at a family event – and that's where transmission starts to occur again."

Watch highlights of the interview in the video player above.