BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of Spaniards woke early and laced up their sports shoes Saturday after a prohibition on outdoor exercise during the coronavirus pandemic ended after seven weeks.
Morning people dressed in athletic wear poured into the streets at 6 a.m. to run, bike, and speed walk, with many taking extra care to loosen up atrophied muscles so a twisted ankle or pulled hamstring wouldn’t spoil the rush of release.
“I feel good, but tired. You sure notice that it has been a month, and I am not in shape,” Cristina Palomeque, 36, said following a 20-minute jog in Barcelona.
A few tried running with face masks despite the added difficulty breathing. Masks will be required on public transportation starting Monday to prevent infections from the virus that causes COVID-19, which has heavily affected Spain.
Despite slight trepidation and the physical challenge, Palomeque said she decided it was time to get moving again. She had grown tired of following Zumba and yoga classes online.
“Some people think it may be too early (to go out), as I do, but it is also important to do exercise for health reasons,” she said.
A brilliant sunny sky in Barcelona drew many to the maritime promenade to get as close as possible to the beach, which is still off-limits. People are supposed to respect a 2-meter distance, but the crowds in some spots made that impossible.
“We woke up very early so that we wouldn’t find it too full of people, but … it’s complicated,” Eduardo Conte, 37, said after a run along the Mediterranean beachfront. “I feel a rush (being back outside), but you have to take it easy so we don’t all end up with injuries.”
The images of crowds enjoying the good weather and coming too close to each other prompted the health chief of the Castilla León region to comment, “I think that even people who have never go on a run are running today.”
The regional health chief, Verónica Casado called for people to act responsibly so Spain doesn’t see a rebound of the virus that would require rolling back the additional freedom to go out in public.
The scene Saturday was similar to last weekend, when parents in Spain were allowed to take their children out for a walk for the first time in six weeks. After some chastising by local officials in the worst cases, the population behaved better throughout the week.
The government has set up time slots for age groups and activities to prevent crowds from forming and exposing the most at-risk elders.
People between 14 and 70 can now go out for individual exercise, and couples in that age group who live together can go for walks, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. People over 70 can go out from 10 a.m. to noon and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., with one caregiver if needed.
Children under 14 are now allowed to go out between noon and 7 p.m. for walks with one parent, for up one hour, within 1 kilometer (half a mile) of home. They cannot play with other children.
Towns and villages with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants are exempt from the timetable dividing people by age groups.
“Now we are finally seeing the results of all these weeks of confinement, (…) and we deserve some relief,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in a televised address, while warning that citizens must not “let their guard down.”
“I am convinced that over the coming months, until we have a vaccine, we are going to see more outbreaks (of the virus),” Sánchez said. “What we need to guarantee is that these outbreaks do not put our national health system in danger.”
Since Spain’s lockdown took effect on March 14, only adults have been able to leave home, and only for shopping for food, medicine and other essential goods, and to walk dogs close to home. For two weeks all commuting was banned; now only unavoidable commutes to and from work are allowed, with authorities encouraging people to work from home.
Spain has detailed a complex rollback plan that will vary by province and will take effect on Monday. Those with the fewest cases and with health care resources to handle a rebound of the virus will be the first to enjoy a further loosening of the measures.
The lockdown, among the strictest in the world, has succeeded in reducing daily increases of over 20% in cases to under 1% and saving Spain’s hospitals from collapse.
Spain has 25,100 confirmed deaths from the virus after a daily increase of 276 was reported on Saturday. That is down from daily death tolls of over 900 a month ago. Another 1,147 cases reported over the past 24 hours took the total of confirmed infections to 216,582.
The huge field hospital the military helped set up in a convention center in Madrid was closed on Friday. Madrid had already closed the makeshift morgue the army had established in an ice rink.
In Madrid, police reminded athletes that parks were still off-limits on town hall orders.
“These are very strong restrictions, but it is what it is. We have to follow the instructions from the Health Ministry because they know more than us,” 52-year-old Manuel García said in the capital.
“This feeling of freedom is great. When this gets back to normal, all of us will feel even better.”
Renata Brito in Barcelona and Alicia León and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak