MADRID/BARCELONA - Exhilarated Spaniards danced in streets, chanted "freedom" and partied on beaches overnight as a COVID-19 curfew ended across most of the nation.
In scenes akin to New Year's Eve celebrations, hundreds of mainly young people gathered in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square to applaud the clock striking midnight while in Barcelona revellers headed to the beach with drinks in hand.
Police in Barcelona had the strange task of moving people on after the last curfew began at 10 p.m., only to let them back at midnight when it ended for good.
Some people wore masks but there was scant social distancing as friends kissed, hugged, danced and sang.
"Young people, like everyone else, have been very restricted," said shop worker Paula Garcia, 28, on the beach in Barcelona. "Now was time to give us a bit of freedom to enjoy a little of the summer."
But social media videos of large groups paying little heed to COVID distancing drew criticism from some. "Freedom does not include breaking the rules," said Madrid's conservative mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, emphasizing that gatherings to drink on the street, known as "botellones", were prohibited.
'TIME TO LET US OUT'
One of Europe's worst-hit nations, Spain has suffered 78,792 coronavirus deaths and 3.6 million cases. But infection rates have fallen and vaccinations are progressing fast, enabling most of the 17 regions to scrap the curfew until dawn.
Only four regions were keeping it: the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Navarra and Valencia.
"It was time they let us out," said store clerk Andreu Pujol, 25, also on the beach in Barcelona.
"Even so, I am still very unhappy with the handling (of the pandemic). You can see that in this country all they do is make things up as they go along," .
As impromptu parties sprung up in town centres around the nation, police kept a wary eye, reminding some revellers that drinking on the street was prohibited.
Madrid's right-wing regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso just won reelection after campaigning on looser measures, but the city has the second highest infection rate in Spain and was still ordering bars and restaurants shut from midnight.
Even so, there was joy at the end of curfew.
"The right to move freely is fundamental," said Madrid resident Luis Rigo in the Puerta del Sol.
"I'm happy, I'm delighted of course."
(Reporting by Jordi Rubio and Luis Felipe Castilleja in Barcelona and Silvio Castellanos in Madrid; Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)