MADRID (Reuters) -The northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia won court approval for a night curfew on Thursday as Madrid pledged to distribute millions more test kits to tackle the Omicron variant that is driving up infections and overshadowing Christmas.
Spain lifted most restrictions over the summer thanks to a high vaccination rate that suppressed infection but Omicron's arrival has sent daily cases soaring to reach a record of more than 72,900 on Thursday.
The concentration of coronavirus detected in wastewater reached the highest level since a monitoring programme began in June 2020, the Environment Ministry said.
Adopting the hardest line since Spain emerged from a state of emergency in May, Catalonia, which surrounds the city of Barcelona, will ban residents from leaving their homes between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. from Thursday night, while other regions took a less stringent approach.
Southern Murcia told non-essential businesses to shut at 1 a.m., severely curtailing revelry in a country where bars and restaurants routinely stay open until the small hours.
"The idea is to try to limit, during the Christmas season, social interactions where the mask is not used," regional leader Fernando Lopez Miras said, explaining the measure, which northern Aragon was also considering.
Lopez Miras's administration also banned dancing in nightclubs and limited the size of dinners to 10 people inside and 12 on terraces.
The region of Madrid, whose right-wing regional leader has prioritised the hospitality sector throughout the pandemic, focused on better testing and pledged to distribute 12 million rapid tests over Christmas.
A meeting of regional chiefs called by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday failed to produce any broad agreement on measures beyond a mandate to wear masks outdoors, which garnered a mixed reception from Spaniards.
Madrid resident Maria Ortiz told Reuters she would not follow the rules.
"I go to a restaurant and they sit a person next to me and I can take my mask off but out on the street I have to wear it? I don't agree."
Health Minister Carolina Darias stressed there was no need for alarm.
"We are not in the same situation as last Christmas and the turning point is high vaccination coverage."
The infection rate as measured over 14 days reached 911,31 per 100,000 people, surpassing the late January peak of 900, although hospitals are at around a quarter of the level seen then.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo, Nathan Allen, Michael Gore and Jesús Aguado; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)