MADRID • The regional government of Madrid is aiming to test one million people - about 13 per cent of the population - for Covid-19 over this week in a desperate battle to avert another lockdown.
Regional President Isabel Diaz Ayuso announced the testing blitz on Friday as she imposed a ban on all non-essential movement in 37 hot spots in and around the Spanish capital, where the infection rate has spiked above 1,000 per 100,000 people.
That means more than 1 per cent of the local community has been infected in two weeks.
Madrid has become the epicentre of the Spanish outbreak as governments around Europe battle to contain a resurgence in infections that is threatening to undermine recovery.
Across the continent, alarm is growing that officials may be forced to return to the kind of harsh curbs that shut down much of the economy during the first part of the year.
"Another lockdown would be an economic disaster," Ms Ayuso said at a press conference.
"We need to use all means at our disposal to avoid it."
More than 640,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Spain, the health authorities said on Friday, with a rise of 4,697 in the past 24 hours.
Nearly 30,500 people have died.
Health officials are blaming the increase on social gatherings, especially among younger people, and on the summer holiday season, which made Spain particularly exposed.
Politicians are reluctant to reimpose more lockdowns with voters already fed up after more than six months of disruption to daily life.
Ms Ayuso is expected to meet Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez this week to discuss the growing crisis amid speculation that the whole of the Spanish capital could be put back into lockdown.
A partial lockdown is set to begin in some of Madrid's poorer districts this week, but residents of one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods said yesterday that they doubted the new measures would work.
Vallecas, a southern district with a lower average income and higher immigrant population, has one of the highest infection rates in the Spanish capital - almost six times higher than that of Chamberi, a wealthier, northern district.
"These restrictions are completely useless because we have to travel from one area which has a lot of cases to another which has less and we are going to spread it," said 48-year-old Feli, a civil servant who lives in Vallecas.
Under the restrictions announced by Madrid's regional government on Friday, movement between and within six districts that are home to about 850,000 people will be restricted from tomorrow, but people will still be able to go to work.
Access to parks and public areas will be restricted, gatherings will be limited to six people and commercial establishments will have to close by 10pm in the areas.