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Record-high electricity bills draw criticism to Spain's govt

Record-high electricity bills draw criticism to Spain's govt

Spanish consumers are fretting over record-high power prices just as high summer temperatures are keeping air conditioning and cooling systems operating at full capacityBy ARITZ PARRA Associated PressJuly 21, 2021, 1:49 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — Spanish consumers are fretting over record-high power prices just as high summer temperatures are keeping air conditioning and cooling systems operating at full capacity.The government says that the latest hikes in electricity bills are driven by spiraling prices of so-called carbon certificates, which give companies the right to release carbon dioxide, gas imports that Spain needs to complete its energy mix, and the surging power demand of the summer months.In the latest effort to rein in prices, lawmakers were voting Wednesday on whether to uphold the government’s move last month to cut the value-added tax on most households’ electricity bills from 21% to 10% until the end of this year and to scrap a 7% tax on power generation for at least three months. Utility companies pass on the cost of that tax to their customers.But consumers’ associations said that the savings by those two measures have already been offset by the surge in prices that both Spain and Portugal, which share the electricity purchasing market, have seen since the beginning of this year.Wednesday’s megawatt per hour was costing residents in both countries an average of 106 euros ($124), according to OMIE, the electricity market operator in the Iberian Peninsula. In Spain, that was the costliest price since records exist, surpassing the previous record of 103 euros/MWh on Jan. 11, 2002.Facua, one of Spain’s biggest consumer rights platforms, said that Spaniards will see on average a 35% hike on their July electricity bill compared to the same month in 2020. The increase comes at a time when many households are grappling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.Facua’s secretary-general, Rubén Sánchez, said that “the government’s inaction is unacceptable.”He said the main problem was a rule in the daily auction of power for which the government pays all the megawatts it buys from different power sources at the highest price of all of them, which is usually is electricity generated with gas.“That promotes speculation and artificially inflated prices,” he said, adding that power utilities were still earning large benefit margins.Members of Spain’s left-wing ruling coalition blamed the regulations of the European power market.“We have done what’s in our hands by bringing down the VAT,” said Félix Boñaos, the new minister in charge of the prime minister’s office. “The rest of it are factors that need to be dealt with at the European level.”Environment Minister Teresa Ribera said that she had written a letter to the EU’s executive branch stressing the need to reform the bloc’s electricity market, but warned that the upward trend in prices was likely to continue in the coming months.

Curfews return in Spain as infections soar in young people

Curfews return in Spain as infections soar in young people

Spanish regions are bringing back curfews as well as restrictions on socializing and nightlife to contain a sharp rise in coronavirus infectionsBy ARITZ PARRA Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 6:08 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — Spanish regions are bringing back curfews as well as restrictions on socializing and nightlife to contain a sharp rise in coronavirus infections as the fast-spreading delta variant races through the country’s unvaccinated young people.Catalonia and Valencia, two Mediterranean coast regions with major virus outbreaks, are limiting social gatherings to 10 people and restoring late night restrictions on all activities, while the northern region of Asturias on Monday banned indoor bar and restaurants operations.Fuelled by parties to mark the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, Spain’s two-week COVID-19 caseload is now over three times higher among people under 30 than the average. The closely watched variable rose nationally on Monday to 368 cases per 100,000 residents, according to Fernando Simón, who coordinates Spain’s response to health emergencies.Simón said although younger patients typically don’t need intensive care treatment, the high number of cases among under 30s was slowly pushing up the rate of hospital admissions.“We are not recording an increase in mortality – and we hope that we don’t reach there,” he told reporters.Simón said the impact of the delta variant, which spreads faster than the original virus, is not as crucial as people dropping their guard against the virus.“We are doing things that probably entail a high risk of contagion,” he said. “No matter whether it’s this variant or another one, the risks we take would lead to an increase in transmission.”Spain has fully vaccinated more than 21 million people or 46% of its total population. But only roughly 600,000 of those are under 30, the next target group for vaccine jabs.Since lifting a national state of emergency in May, regional authorities trying to keep the spread of the virus at bay have sought court authorization for adopting restrictions that curtail basic freedoms. That has led to varying results.While judges on Monday rejected plans by the northern Aragón region to close nightclubs, a Valencia high court authorized the 10-person limit on meetings there and a 1 a.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew in 32 towns. The targeted towns, including the regional capital, were labeled high risk after the region’s 2-week caseload jumped from fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents last month to more than 250 currently.In Catalonia, where authorities over the weekend described the surge of new cases as “explosive,” an uptick in hospitalizations, including among few dozen patients who had received two doses, has caused concern.All bars, restaurants and cultural venues must now close at 12:30 a.m. and eating and drinking in the streets is banned, the regional government announced Monday, recommending local authorities to also restrict the region’s popular beaches. The measures need to be authorized by a judge.———Follow all AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

Over 100 men jump fences into Spanish city in North Africa

Over 100 men jump fences into Spanish city in North Africa

Authorities in Melilla say that 119 African men have entered the autonomous city from a group of over 200 who tried to jump over the double fence that separates the Spanish enclave in northern Africa from MoroccoBy ARITZ PARRA Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 9:18 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — Authorities in Melilla said on Monday that 119 African men have entered the autonomous city from a group of over 200 who tried to jump over the double fence that separates the Spanish enclave in northern Africa from Morocco.At least five Civil Guard officers and one of the migrants were injured during the crossing attempt in the early hours of Monday, a spokesman with the Spanish government’s delegation in Melilla said.The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be named in media reports, said the rest of the migrants were stopped by guards on the Moroccan side of the border.He said that the migrants are all men from Sub-Saharan African countries. Those who managed to get into Melilla are being tested for the coronavirus at the local migrant processing center and will be quarantined, the official said.Melilla and nearby Ceuta, Spain’s other autonomous city on the northern African coast, are seen as springboards into Europe for many Africans fleeing poverty or violence.Thousands, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, arrived in Ceuta in mid-May amid a diplomatic row between Spain and Morocco over the future of Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Rabat in the 1970s.

Spain restricts nightlife as virus surges among the young

Spain restricts nightlife as virus surges among the young

Some Spanish regions are reinstating curbs on nightlife only weeks after dropping them, as soaring numbers of coronavirus infections pop up among the unvaccinated youthBy ARITZ PARRA Associated PressJuly 5, 2021, 5:33 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — Faced with soaring numbers of new coronavirus infections among unvaccinated young people, some Spanish regions are reinstating curbs on nightlife only weeks after dropping them.Fearing that the surging contagion could strain health care services as stressed employees try to go on summer holidays, health officials in several parts of the country are also rushing to get COVID-19 vaccine shots to people under 30.Spain’s strict vaccination rollout has so far focused on older, more vulnerable groups, leaving the vaccination of teenagers and people in their 20s for the summer.So far, 40% of Spain’s 47 million people have been fully vaccinated, one of the highest levels in Europe, but that falls to one in ten vaccinated in the 20-29 age group and a meager 0.7% for those under 20.“We have to thank the youth for the extra, longer effort that we have demanded from them, as they are only starting to get vaccinated now,” said Fernando Simón, who coordinates the country’s response to health emergencies.Simón said Monday there’s a danger that infections among young people spread to vulnerable older groups like those waiting for a second vaccine dose or people not vaccinated at all.“We are in a complicated situation regarding transmission and we hope that this doesn’t turn into a grave situation at hospitals,” he said.The 14-day contagion rate Monday among those 20 to 29 was more than three times the national average of 204 new cases per 100,000 residents.Simón said the delta virus variant that has been blamed for rising infections in other countries like Portugal and Britain is not yet the main driver of new confirmed cases in Spain.New infections have also spread among Spanish teenagers as a result of trips and parties to celebrate the end of the school year. Thousands have been forced to go into isolation nationwide after more than 1,000 infections were tied to student trips to Spain’s Mallorca islands. At least 700 others have tested positive in mass screenings in the northern Navarra region among students who went to a beach resort last month.Authorities in Navarra are seeing more than 500 new infections a day, a level not reached since the country’s second virus resurgence in October. In response, they announced that bars and nightclubs will go back to closing at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.Nightlife will be completely shut down in at least 16 towns in the northern Cantabria region, which leads the nation’s infection tallies.A spike in coronavirus infections is also hitting the northeastern Catalonia region. Authorities there have invited people over 16 to receive their virus shots after a seven-fold increase of infections in the past two weeks, reaching more than 3,000 new confirmed cases in the past few days.The rebound in cases has so far led to comparatively lower hospital admissions than previous surges because COVID-19 leads to fewer complications among young people, but health care centers and contagion contact tracers are struggling to handle an overload of cases.A federation of nightlife business owners has issued a statement saying that their industry is being used as a “scapegoat” for the new surge in infections and urged authorities instead to crack down on illegal booze parties.———Follow all AP stories on the pandemic at https://apnews.com/coronavirus-pandemic.

Spain restricts some nightlife as virus surges among young

Spain restricts some nightlife as virus surges among young

Some Spanish regions are rolling back curbs on nightlife only weeks after dropping them, as soaring numbers of coronavirus infections pop up among the unvaccinated youthBy ARITZ PARRA Associated PressJuly 5, 2021, 1:33 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — Faced with soaring numbers of new coronavirus infections among unvaccinated young people, some Spanish regions are rolling back curbs on nightlife only weeks after dropping them.Fearing that the surging contagion could strain health care services as stressed employees try to go on summer holidays, health officials in several parts of the country are also rushing to get COVID-19 vaccine shots to people under 30.Spain’s strict vaccination rollout has so far focused on older, more vulnerable groups, leaving for this summer the vaccination of teenagers and people in their 20s.So far, nearly 40% of Spain’s 47 million people have been fully vaccinated, one of the highest levels in Europe, but the share falls to one in ten vaccinated in the 20-29 age group and a meager 0.6% for youngsters up to 20.On Friday, the last time pandemic updates were published by the Health Ministry, the 14-day contagion rate among those 20 to 29 was nearly three times the national average of 153 new cases per 100,000 residents.New infections have also spread among teenagers as a result of trips and parties to celebrate the end of the school year. Thousands have been forced to go into isolation nationwide after more than 1,000 infections were tied to student trips to Spain’s Mallorca islands. At least 700 others have tested positive in mass screenings in the northern Navarra region among students who went to a beach resort last month.Authorities in Navarra are seeing more than 500 new infections a day, a level not reached since the country’s second virus resurgence in October. In response, they announced that bars and nightclubs will go back to closing at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.Nightlife will be completely shut down in at least 16 towns of the northern Cantabria region, which leads the nation’s infection tallies.A spike in coronavirus infections is also hitting the northeastern Catalonia region. Authorities there have invited people over 16 to receive their virus shots after a seven-fold increase of infections in the past two weeks, reaching more than 3,000 new confirmed cases in the past few days.The rebound in cases has so far led to comparatively lower hospital admissions than previous surges because COVID-19 leads to fewer complications among the young people, but health care centers and contagion contact tracers are struggling to handle an overload of cases.A federation of nightlife business owners has issued a statement saying that their industry is being used as a “scapegoat” for the new surge in infections and urged authorities instead to crack down on illegal booze parties.———Follow all AP stories on the pandemic at https://apnews.com/coronavirus-pandemic.

Nine pardoned pro-independence Catalan leaders to walk free

Nine pardoned pro-independence Catalan leaders to walk free

Nine separatists pardoned by the Spanish government are expected to leave the prisons where they were serving lengthy terms for organizing a bid for an independent northeastern Catalonia region nearly four years agoBy ARITZ PARRA Associated PressJune 23, 2021, 8:45 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — Nine separatists pardoned by the Spanish government are expected on Wednesday to leave the prisons where they were serving lengthy terms for organizing a bid for an independent Catalonia republic nearly four years ago.Spain’s Cabinet pardoned them Tuesday in the hope of starting what Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called a much-needed reconciliation in the country’s restive northeastern region.Former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, five fellow Cabinet members, the former regional parliament’s speaker and two pro-independence activists are expected to walk free at noon on Wednesday after spending between three-and-a-half and four years behind bars.Spain’s official gazette published earlier in the day the government decree pardoning them.The order canceled the remainder of prison terms ranging from nine to 13 years over sedition and misuse of public funds linked to the 2017 banned referendum and a short-lived independence declaration. But the separatists won’t be able to hold public office until the end of their sentences and they could go back to prison if they go against Spanish law again, the decree said.Despite polls showing that much of Spain’s public is against the pardons, Sánchez has defended them, arguing that they are popular in Catalonia and that freeing the separatists will be a fresh start for relations between central and regional authorities.The political division was on display Wednesday during a government control session at the nation’s parliament.Conservative opposition leader Pablo Casado called for the prime minister’s resignation for issuing the pardons without consulting lawmakers.“You are applauding an unfortunate day for Spain’s democratic history, you are throwing the fate of the country into the hands of the separatists,” Casado said, accusing Sánchez of lying because the Socialist leader had vowed not to make concessions to separatists when he came to power.Sánchez responded saying that the decision to issue pardons was “brave, restorative and in favor of coexistence.”Catalan separatist legislators called for the government to take a step further and urged it to follow the “Scottish way” — in reference to the 2014 independence referendum authorized by the British government. Voters in Scotland elected to remain in the U.K.