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Spain Sees A New Surge In Coronavirus Cases

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Coronavirus cases in Spain are on the rise again. Spain was among the places most affected as the pandemic first began to unfold. Now it's the European country with the highest number of new daily cases. Yet hospitalizations are down compared to the pandemic's peak, and patients are younger with milder symptoms. As Lucia Benavides reports, local governments there are trying to contain the virus to avoid another lockdown.

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: The month of August has been emptier than usual in Barcelona. Touristy places like the Cathedral of Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas are filled instead with locals taking strolls or going grocery shopping. Sixty-eight-year-old Jose Maria Garcia is feeding birds in Plaza Catalunya in the city center. He says it's sad to see the city like this.

JOSE MARIA GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: This used to be filled with people from all over the world, he says. He worries about the effect of the pandemic on the economy. Many stores haven't reopened since March.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: I don't know if cases are increasing or decreasing, he tells me, but the situation is under control. In fact, cases are increasing and rapidly. Regional governments are trying to curb the outbreaks by making masks mandatory in public spaces and shutting down nightclubs. On Monday health emergency chief Fernando Simon said Spain is reporting nearly the same number of new daily infections as it was at the peak of the pandemic.

FERNANDO SIMON: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: He said the situation is worrying but not catastrophic. There are fewer hospitalizations and deaths than in the spring. Spain was under a strict lockdown for three months, when people were largely confined to their homes and hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. Bars, restaurants and shopping centers reopened two months ago. But Gabriel Del Pozo, one of the leaders of the doctors union, says it was all done too quickly.

GABRIEL DEL POZO: (Through interpreter) That term, return to a new normality, created a lot of problems. People thought we were returning to life as it was before, but that's not the case. This pandemic didn't disappear.

BENAVIDES: Del Pozo, who's also a primary physician, is particularly worried about young people who, after months of not seeing their friends, are all too eager to go out and socialize.

DEL POZO: (Through interpreter) The only cure for COVID-19 right now is solidarity. I need to protect those around me in order to selfishly protect myself.

BENAVIDES: For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHARK? SONG, "CALIFORNIA GRRLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.