The Supreme Court of the Basque Country rules the regional government must lift the measure that keeps the catering industry in 85 Basque municipalities closed.
Since 12th December, all bars and restaurants in municipalities with an incidence of 500 cases or more per 100 thousand inhabitants have had to close their doors. This applied to the five major cities of Vitoria, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Irún and Barakaldo. Three regional catering industry associations then went to court and challenged this government measure.
Catering industry not proven cause of increase in infections
The Supreme Court ruled in their favour, provided the hospitality industry meets certain conditions to minimise health risks. For example, only 50% capacity may be used with a maximum of four people per table in the interior spaces. Further, establishments must close by 8pm and customers may not be served at the bar. A decisive factor in the court’s verdict was that in December, when bars and restaurants were still open, the number of contamination cases did not increase. Evidence from epidemiologists also indicated 80% of infections take place in the private sphere.
“In view of the conflict of interest, the Chamber is of the opinion that the reopening of the catering industry under the aforementioned conditions does not present a major and established risk to public health,” said the court. The ruling is a precautionary measure. Waiting for a final judgment after extensive research would have major economic consequences for the closed bars and restaurants. It affects 12 thousand companies that together employ about 60 thousand employees.
Regional government wanted catering industry closed to keep people at home
However, the Basque sub-government headed by Iñigo Urkullu wanted the catering industry to remain closed in order to prevent people leaving their homes. Closed establishments, they believed, would reduce crowding, close contact and therefore contamination. Government spokesman, Bingen Zupiria, responded to the Supreme Court ruling with an urgent request that the industry strictly observe the rules for opening.
Not the first time regional government measure reversed
At the beginning of August last year, the Basque government imposed limited opening hours on the hospitality industry in the evenings. Even then, the Supreme Court dissolved that restrictive measure. Subsequently, the regional government issued a public health emergency on 15th August, expecting legal cover for the measures taken. That turned out not to be the case and the court again rejected the autonomous regulations. For Urkullu, this was one reason to ask Prime Minister Sánchez in October to declare a second general emergency.
In December, as a result of the declining contamination figures, bars and restaurants in areas with an incidence of less than 500 could reopen. This resulted in catering establishments opening in the more densely populated areas of the region. Due to rising contamination figures that followed the holiday period, the doors of the catering industry in Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastián were closed again.