Madrid's chief health expert quits amid decision to ease coronavirus restrictions

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The public health director of Madrid, Yolanda Fuentes, quit Thursday, reportedly in protest of the region’s cabinet decision to start rolling back coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Fuentes reportedly disagreed with the region's leaders over the push to reopen the city, due to the high number of coronavirus cases in and surrounding Madrid. But local authorities have not yet given a reason for Fuentes stepping down, according to The Associated Press.

Madrid and the region surrounding the Spanish capital have seen the largest number of coronavirus cases across the country, accounting for nearly 64,000 out of 221,000 reported cases.

In the Madrid region alone, 8,500 people have died from COVID-19, which makes up 30 percent of the nation’s coronavirus related casualties. In recent days, the number of infected people in Madrid has decreased, with just 86 new cases reported since Wednesday.

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The downturn in new infection rates has reportedly prompted the regional government, led by Isabel Díaz Ayuso -- the president of the Community of Madrid -- to seek permission from the national Ministry of Health to start the de-escalation process by May 11.

Spain has slowly eased back restrictions in some parts of the country by initiating phase one of its reopening process.

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One hour of outdoor exercise is now permitted. But the weekend saw a boost in arrests and fines as people abused the new freedoms, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry.

Businesses and cafes are also allowed to be partially reopened and groups of 10 or less can meet in public, but face masks are still required to be worn.

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Barcelona remains in full lockdown despite Madrid’s request to initiate phase one and ease restrictions in the capital.

Ayuso announced on Twitter Thursday that Dr. Antonio Zapatero will lead Madrid’s strategy for ending the spread of the virus and reopening the region once the national health ministry permits the move.

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The Ministry of Health has not yet made a decision on whether Madrid will be allowed to start easing coronavirus restrictions. Plans to initiate phase two in reopening the country have not been released.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.