MADRID, Spain - Images of drunk foreign tourists shouting in the streets and police raiding illegal parties in Madrid at a time when locals are not allowed to travel between Spain's regions have left many Spaniards up in arms.
Spanish TV on Monday aired a video of officers smashing the windows of an apartment over the weekend to dislodge occupants holding a party that violated virus restrictions.
The fact that several of the partygoers were reportedly foreigners fueled resentment over the seemingly haphazard nature of travel restrictions in Europe during the pandemic, with many Spaniards taking to social media to vent their anger.
While Spaniards are not allowed to leave their own regions until April 9 to avoid a resurgence of coronavirus infections over Holy Week, similar restrictions do not apply to international tourists, who can still fly into Spain on presentation of a negative Covid test.
And with its 11:00 pm curfew and bars and restaurants open, Madrid has drawn scores of visitors from countries under tighter lockdowns.
According to online travel company Kayak, searches for flights to Madrid from neighboring France are up 142 percent in March over the same time last year, at a time when flight searches overall are sharply down.
"These images worry me," Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters Monday when asked about the pictures of revelers in Madrid.
"The image of our country is that of responsible people who respect the rules," she said.
With Madrid in the middle of a crucial campaign ahead of regional elections on May 4, the laissez-faire attitude of the authorities, who for months have insisted on minimizing Covid restrictions, has drawn sharp criticism.
But Madrid's conservative regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso said it was up to Spain's leftist central government to tighten entry rules.
"We cannot spread the idea that in Madrid there exists 'alcohol tourism'," she said in an interview with private television La Sexta.
Madrid has been the only major European capital to maintain social life practically unrestricted since a nationwide lockdown was fully lifted in June 2020, with cinemas and theatres also open.
While the policy has been applauded by the hospitality sector, it is seen as one of the reasons why Madrid has consistently had one of Spain's highest incidences of coronavirus.
Madrid municipal police said they broke up 353 illegal parties over the weekend, down slightly from 384 in the previous week.
In many cases, the raids are sparked by complaints of noise from neighbors of Airbnb rental flats where the parties are held.
"We need citizen cooperation now more than ever," the central government's chief representative to the Madrid region, Jose Manuel Franco, said Monday.
He urged people to keep reporting the illegal parties to the authorities.
Amid the furor over the lack of travel restrictions for foreign tourists, Spain on Saturday announced anyone crossing the land border into the country would have to present a negative PCR test, as had already been the case for those arriving by air.
© Agence France-Presse