In a press briefing today, Catalan president Quim Torra said that the next three weeks will play a crucial role in determining what happens in the autumn and winter.
President Torra, Minister Vergés and the Secretary for Public Health during the press briefing. Photograph: Rubén Moreno

In a press briefing today, Catalan president Quim Torra said that the next three weeks will play a crucial role in determining what happens in the autumn and winter. The head of the executive stressed the need for a collective focus on keeping the epidemic in check so that people can return to work and schools can reopen. He also announced a ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people – to apply throughout Catalonia in both the public and the private sphere – and the extension to the counties of Vallès Oriental and Vallès Occidental of certain restrictions already in effect in Barcelona and the metropolitan area.

The president stressed that people must be “very aware of their social behaviours and strictly follow any measures announced to reduce the level of activity and social interaction as the situation evolves” and flatten the curve.

“In addition to a health, economic and social emergency, we’re facing an educational emergency,” Torra said. In response, the president announced the launch of Operation September, which aims to ensure that Catalan children and teens can return to school.

Measures to tackle challenges

Given that “70% of infections occur in gatherings with friends”, the president announced that social gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned throughout Catalonia, in both the public and the private sphere. He said that reducing the level of activity and avoiding unnecessary travel was a “national challenge” for Catalonia.

A series of other measures – closure of nightspots, restriction of restaurant opening hours, and a ban on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco in public spaces – will remain in effect, and Torra said people should continue to socially distance, use face masks, and practise hand hygiene.

Reassuring the educational community

The president announced that an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council will be held tomorrow to hammer out the details of the school opening plan.

He said the measures contemplated include reductions in class size, and that 500,000 tests will be performed in Catalan primary and secondary schools from 15 September to 15 November in order to provide more complete information on the spread of infection in Catalonia. In addition, face masks will be mandatory for children over 12 and for those over six in areas where the risk of infection is high.

The President said the plan was intended to reassure the educational community and called on the central government to take immediate action to provide an allowance for parents who have to stay home to care for children affected by measures related to Covid-19, adding that he had asked Vice-President Aragonés to explore the possibility of launching an alternative mechanism if the central government does not move ahead with this initiative.

 “We’ll do everything it takes – screening, measures, protocols – with everyone”

Echoing the points made by the president, the Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, called on the public to keep up efforts to reduce the number of infections and ensure that Catalonia is “in the best possible situation for the return to school and work”.

Based on current trends, Vergés said the situation on 14 September is likely to be far from ideal. Over the last week, the incidence rate has increased significantly and the reproduction number has risen to 1.12. The minister said it was still possible to reverse this trend and stressed that the government would “do everything possible – screening, measures, protocols – with everyone”.

Vergés announced that over 25,000 PCR tests will be performed this week as part of intensive community screening for Covid-19 and said additional measures would be applied in four municipalities currently seeing an increase in cases (Terrassa, Granollers, Les Franqueses del Vallès and Canovelles).

For his part, the Secretary for Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, lamented that, from an epidemiological perspective, “we’ve gone back three weeks and have to make up the ground we’ve lost. But we already knew we were in a long-distance race. In the coming days, the curve will go up, but we can’t let up. We’ll be as proactive as we can but need everyone to play their part.”