“I worry a bit because we don’t know much about Omicron,” Susanne Sesterer, 63, a retiree in Hanover, Germany, said on Thursday as she was doing her last shopping before Christmas. “But how much worse can it get?”

Others were giving up.

Dorotea Belli, a 42-year-old Italian who has had two vaccine doses, said she would not go to a family gathering for Christmas and instead stay home in Rome. Many of her colleagues had tested positive for the virus, she said, and her children, 4 and 1, are not eligible for vaccination.

“They and I will miss my parents very much,” she said. “But I don’t want to bring Covid around, and even if my husband and I are vaccinated, who knows?”

Spain’s calculus on new restrictions is not only factoring in the all-important holidays, but also legal barriers that emerged after measures taken by the government in 2020.

In July, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that the government did not have the authority to impose the lockdown measures that began in March 2020, which restricted Spaniards from leaving their homes except for essential trips like food shopping. Instead, the judges said, the measures required a full parliamentary vote, which few see passing with a majority in the future given how controversial the previous restrictions were.

“The government has its hands tied now,” said Luis Galán Soldevilla, a law professor at the University of Córdoba.

Spain’s lighter measures announced on Thursday received criticism from some sectors, like the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration, a group that includes many health professionals.

“These measures don’t help much,” said Ildefonso Hernández, the group’s spokesman, saying limiting capacity indoors would be more effective. “It makes no sense that people walk the street with a mask and then take it off when they enter a bar.”

In Madrid, residents were charging ahead with their Christmas plans, despite the rising caseload and risks.

Fernando Sánchez, 55, a taxi driver, lost his mother and brother to Covid-19 six months ago. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to cancel his Christmas plans, which this year take place at the home of his in-laws, much as they had before the pandemic.

Antonio Jesús Navarro, 33, a software engineer, had been looking forward to spending Christmas with his girlfriend, who had traveled to Spain for the holidays from the United States. The two had not seen each other since before the pandemic began.

But then Mr. Navarro learned he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The couple were isolating until he could get his own test results. He said he was frustrated with public messaging on how to stay safe from Omicron.

“Is an antigen test acceptable?” he said by telephone. “What happens if there are no symptoms?”

Hours later, Mr. Navarro called back to say he and his girlfriend had tested positive for Covid-19.

Nicholas Casey and José Bautista reported from Madrid, and Constant Méheut from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder from Geneva; Gaia Pianigiani from Rome; Christopher F. Schuetze from Hanover, Germany; and Léontine Gallois from Paris.

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Heading Home for the Vaccine: One Expat’s Trans-Atlantic Journey

I should mention that Covid is not my family’s first rodeo in terms of social distancing and extreme health-related stress. In 2011, our twins were born at just 23 weeks gestation, weighing 1.5 pounds each and requiring ventilators for about six weeks. We spent their first year isolating in Maplewood, N.J., awash in sanitizer, with pulse oximeters hanging from our necks, masking when needed and keeping them — and ourselves — out of circulation until their lungs had recovered from the damage caused by the ventilators before getting exposed to the typical childhood respiratory infections.

The experience taught us a lot about tolerating limitations and making the most of every easy moment that we could, so by July 2020, with daily Covid infection rates low, we were looking for pandemic silver linings. We loaded Flecha, our 5-month old Covid puppy, and ourselves into our van and zigzagged across Spain — from Cádiz at the southernmost tip to Asturias on the northern coast.

One place we didn’t plan to go last summer was the United States, by then the world leader in Covid cases and where outbreaks in Sun Belt states like Florida and Texas forever crushed the fantasy that the virus would disappear in warm weather.

My parents, who live in New Jersey, are in their late 80s and my children under 10, so we try to bring them together often, and we kept optimistically booking tickets last year in case the pandemic suddenly abated. But as international restrictions took hold, all of those flights were eventually canceled by the airline.

In the meantime, many friends in Spain had gotten sick, but thankfully most recovered. Then in early August, we lost a wonderfully gregarious friend who, at 52, was somehow gone just nine days after his diagnosis. A couple of similarly startling deaths followed and it was like the music stopped — we reverted almost to lockdown protocols, which was maybe a good thing since autumn brought a new wave of infections that has barely ebbed since.

From the outset my greatest fear was that my husband and I, who both have underlying health issues, would get seriously ill at the same time, with no relatives in Madrid to care for our kids. Thus we’ve been vigilant — only meeting people outdoors and doing lots of home testing — an area where Spain is way ahead of the United States.

All of this was in the background at dinner one night in early March when we wondered if it was time to cancel our tickets to New York for spring break at the end of that month. The United States was then still registering massive daily infections, but also setting daily records for vaccines administered.

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She Kept Madrid Open in the Pandemic. Voters Rewarded Her.

MADRID — She is a conservative who campaigned on a slogan that came down to one word: Freedom. She offered herself as a champion of small business and scoffed at national coronavirus restrictions.

Her critics called her a “Trumpista.” But Isabel Díaz Ayuso is now a rising force in Spanish politics. Voters rewarded the right-wing leader of the Madrid region with a landslide victory on Tuesday after she defied the central government by keeping the capital’s bars and shops open throughout much of the pandemic.

She suggested that her victory showed that pandemic fatigue and economic distress had left Spaniards unwilling to endure more of the measures favored by the left-wing national government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

“Madrid is freedom — and they don’t understand our way of living,” she told her supporters about her left-wing opponents who suffered a crushing loss in the vote.

overflowed with Covid-19 patients. But after the central government lifted a nationwide state of emergency last June, Ms. Ayuso ensured that the city was one of the most bustling in Europe, even when its Covid-19 infection rate crept back up after Easter.

This week, Covid-19 patients are filling 44 percent of the beds in Madrid’s intensive care units, which is about double the national average.

Ms. Ayuso’s handling of the pandemic provoked tensions even within her administration. After resigning last year as the head of Madrid’s regional health services, Dr. Yolanda Fuentes, recently attacked Ms. Ayuso’s campaign slogan on Twitter.

“To understand that freedom means to do whatever you want during a pandemic, when intensive care units are above capacity and colleagues feel defeated, seems to me indecent, to say the least,” Dr. Fuentes said.

other elections recently in Europe, where voters have been reluctant to turn out amid the health concerns.

In her closing campaign speech on May 2, which was a public holiday in Madrid that commemorates the city’s fight against the occupation of Napoleon’s troops, Ms. Ayuso made a thinly veiled comparison between the 1808 resistance against the French and her own stance against the central government during the pandemic.

Pablo Iglesias, the founder of the far-left Unidas Podemos party. He had unexpectedly abandoned his post as deputy prime minister of Spain to run in the Madrid regional election.

In a farewell address to his supporters, Mr. Iglesias said he was sorry to witness “the impressive success of the Trumpist right that Ayuso represents.”

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Famous Robert Capa Photo Brings New Life to a Tenement and Its Residents

MADRID — In 1936, the photographer Robert Capa trained his lens on children outside a pockmarked tenement in Madrid that had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe. That image of the Spanish Civil War remains a powerful reminder of the effects of armed conflict on civilians.

This month, some 85 years after the picture was made, plans are underway for the decrepit, century-old building to be preserved and converted into a cultural center that will celebrate the photographer’s work and commemorate Madrid’s wartime history. Residents of the tenement were permanently moved to subsidized housing.

For those who had made their homes in the building, the change was long overdue. Most of them could not afford something better because of a chronic shortage of subsidized housing in Madrid. In January, the discrepancy between the city’s haves and have-nots was on full display when a giant snowstorm deepened the misery in one of the poorest areas of Madrid.

In their new homes, the residents will pay the same or even less for more space, proper heating and other improvements.

reduced the amount of state-subsidized housing to less than 1 percent of the total available — about a quarter of the average across the European Union.

banded together to urge the government to oblige large real estate owners to make some of their holdings available for subsidized housing.

José María Uría, who works for a labor union foundation that led the efforts to salvage the Capa building, said that when the tenement opened in 1927, it was billed as a “new housing model for the working class.”

Some local residents even called the building “the home of the rich,” Mr. Uría added, because one of its inner courtyards had the relative luxury of a water well.

including The New York Times.

The picture “launched his reputation,” said Cynthia Young, former curator of the Robert Capa archive at the International Center of Photography in New York. “It was the first time he had been called out for his work on the cover of a magazine, rare for any photojournalist at the time.”

The decision to preserve the building was made in 2018, when the parliament of Spain’s capital region voted to create the cultural center. To take ownership of the building, the city paid off the old owners at a cost of about $1 million.

Confronting the history of the Civil War has long been divisive in Spain. And like other projects linked to Spain’s wartime past, this one became mired in politics, particularly when right-wing politicians took back control of Madrid’s city government the next year. They delayed confirming what would be displayed at the center.

Mar Espinar, a city lawmaker from the opposition Socialists, said she wanted the center to document the air raids of the war.

“Politicians can disagree on many things, but people need to know our history and that bombs were once dropped on the homes of civilians — as a significant fact and not a matter of opinion,” she said.

exhumed Gen. Francisco Franco, whose victory ushered in a dictatorship that only ended with his death in 1975. His remains were reburied in a family crypt.

Madrid city employees removed a plaque from the home of Francisco Largo Caballero, a Socialist who became prime minister of the Republican government in 1936, a few months after Franco and other generals started a military coup.

The bombing of the Vallecas neighborhood in 1936 was not an obvious military priority for Franco and his forces, but it offered a proving ground for his German allies.

Walther L. Bernecker, a professor emeritus at Erlangen-Nürnberg University in Germany who has studied the war, said the attack on Vallecas, as well as later bombings like the one that devastated the town of Guernica, provided “a perfect laboratory” for the Luftwaffe to test its weaponry and for Nazi Germany to “spread terror among the civilian population.”

Capa did not write specific captions for his Vallecas photographs, so they also appeared in some publications without attribution or even in a manipulated context. In Italy, a pro-Fascist magazine headlined his picture with the words “The cruel war” but did not mention which side had carried out the bombing.

Nowadays, any poignancy about living in the historical building was outweighed by its practical disadvantages, residents said.

“The only reason I lived here so long is that I could never afford anything better,” said Rosa Báez, who spent eight years in the building.

“I’m now getting a better apartment and am among the lucky ones,” she added.

Ms. Uquillas, as she left with her family, offered thanks to Capa for his indirect role in her move. Finally getting an upgrade, she said, felt like “winning the lottery.”

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