Public backlash after Spanish ministers attend awards ceremony hours after curfew

Spanish government ministers, senior politicians, and high-profile industry leaders have come under fire after attending an awards ceremony in Madrid, just hours after the country declared a state of emergency.

Monday’s event was hosted by the news website El Español and welcomed 80 guests to the Casino de Madrid.

Those attending included Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa, Defence Minister Margarita Robles, Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo, and Culture Minister José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes.

Pablo Casado, the leader of the main opposition Popular Party, was present alongside four other high-ranking party politicians, as well as Inés Arrimadas, leader of the center-right party Ciudadanos.

Other guests at the Casino de Madrid included the presidents of three regions, the State Attorney General, and the President of Real Madrid football club.

Pictures from the gala event showed some guests not wearing face masks as they waited to be served dinner.

The images drew strong criticism online, with many people accusing politicians of enjoying a social event while urging citizens to avoid socialising and non-essential activity.

Government spokesperson María Jesús Montero said the event complied with “all the protocols” imposed by the Community of Madrid but acknowledged that officials should be careful to ensure such situations “are not misinterpreted”.

“The event met with all the guarantees,” María Jesús Montero stated at a press conference after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

“But after seeing how the information has been reported today, it is time for an act of self-reflection by all of us who must take part in public events to limit our participation in physical events as much as possible,” she added.

“We are aware that we should be an example for the wider public and we don’t want news like this to emerge.”

The organisers of the event, El Español, also said that the gala was held “with restricted access to respect all the protection protocols against Covid-19”.

“[The event] complied with all health and safety measures and each of the recommendations established by both the Community of Madrid and the Government of Spain”, the news website said in a statement following the online criticism.

El Español’s director, Pedro J. Ramírez stressed, that the event was attended by 80 people, 33 percent of the venue’s capacity.

Guests were distributed in 12 tables of no more than six people in compliance with the cap imposed by the Madrid regional government, El Español stated.

Another 15 people, including bodyguards and assistants, were served in an adjacent room, which was also “adequately ventilated”.

“At all times, the capacity and safety distance limitations were scrupulously respected both between people and between the different tables,” said El Español.

The news website also said that guests were only allowed to remove face masks during dinner or when they went on stage.

The gala was held to celebrate El Español’s fifth anniversary and the delivery of the Los Leones de El Español 2020 awards.

The website added that all attendees left the venue at 23:00, before the start of Madrid’s curfew.

But on social media, the event was widely condemned by Spanish citizens who were being asked to comply with stricter Public Health guidance.

Madrid’s Ministry of Health had announced on Friday that any public or private event “is limited to a maximum of six people, except in the case of cohabitants”.

However, with the regulations and maximum capacity of the Casino de Madrid respected, El Español’s event did not in principle break any rules.

On Sunday, the Spanish government had declared a new national state of emergency, including an overnight curfew that could remain in place for six months.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the decision to restrict free movement on the streets allowed exceptions for commuting to work, buying medicine, and caring for elderly and young family members.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 18,418 new infections and 267 deaths from COVID-19.

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