Spain is poised to relax a ban on children leaving their homes this Sunday, easing a restriction that has frustrated parents since it took effect in the middle of March. Anger spiked this week, after the government initially said children would only be allowed outdoors to accompany adults on trips to essential businesses, such as grocery stores. Officials quickly said they would reconsider.
The initial rollout of the proposal incited a protest Tuesday, with families clanging on pots and pans at their windows and balconies to express intense dissatisfaction with the policy that didn't allow children to leave the house to play, or simply to get fresh air and sunshine.
Criticism also came from the medical field: the Spanish Society of Outpatient Pediatrics and Primary Care, or SEPEAP, said it was in "complete disagreement" with the government's initial plan.
Children must be able to leave the house for their physical and emotional well-being, the group said. And it noted that a child playing outdoors would be less vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 than one taken to a pharmacy or supermarket – where people might be in close quarters, and where children would surely attempt to touch and grab items.
"This is a government that listens," Spain's Health Minister Salvador Illa said at a news conference Tuesday night, as he announced that new and more lenient rules allowing children under the age of 14 to go out for walks would be part of legislation to extend Spain's state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spanish lawmakers approved that extension on Wednesday, maintaining the state of emergency until May 10. The plenary session was marked by criticism of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's management of the crisis, including the strictures for children.
Sanchez admitted that his government might have erred on the side of caution. But he added that he doesn't want to take a step backward in Spain's effort to use confinement and other measures to protect the public, as El País reports.
During Spain's lockdown, "people haven't been allowed to leave their homes except to buy food and medical supplies or walk the dog," as Lucia Benavides recently reported for NPR.
Noting steep fines of $1,000 or more for anyone who disobeys, Benavides added, "Children aren't allowed out at all, even to accompany their parents to the grocery store. Almost all other European countries allow at least some outside time for kids."
Since the middle of March, children in Spain have only been able to leave their homes if an adult has no one else to leave them with, and the child is too young to stay home on their own.
Spain has one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world, with more than 200,000 confirmed cases, including more than 21,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.