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For The First Time In 6 Weeks, Millions Of Children In Spain Can Play Outside Again

Children across Spain were able to leave their homes for the first time in six weeks on Sunday, as the government eased restrictions that have kept anyone under the age of 14 from venturing in public.

Streets and parks in many cities filled with children riding bikes and scooters, with adults accompanying them. While it was a welcome change of routine for many, in photos and videos posted to Twitter, some criticized those who weren't wearing face masks or staying more than 6-feet apart as they strolled neighborhoods and talked to neighbors.

Many of these children live in apartments without any sort of outdoor space or windows with direct sunlight. Some hadn't felt fresh air in over a month.

Spain is one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 — with more than 226,000 confirmed cases and 23,000 deaths, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University.

It also has one of the strictest set of confinement measures in Europe. Since the government declared a state of emergency on March 14, people in Spain have been unable to leave their homes except for buying food, going to the pharmacy, walking pets or going to work if they're unable to work from home. They face fines of more than $1,000 for breaking the rules.

Children, however, have not been allowed to leave under any circumstances.

After mounting pressure from parents and political leaders, as well as a decrease in daily fatality rates and new infections, the Spanish government announced last week that starting Sunday, children could leave the house for one hour each day, as long as they're accompanied by an adult from the same household and stay within a radius of one kilometer (0.62 miles) from their home.

In Moià, a town about an hour and a half away from Barcelona, Iris El Bourj took her 8-year-old son Bruno and 4-year-old son Alan on a bike ride to the nearest plaza after lunch. In contrast to the sunny, busy streets in nearby Barcelona, Bruno and Alan were able to frolic under the spring rain in a deserted park.

"This is going to let them spend their energy, especially living in a small town like this with woods nearby," said El Bourj. "But one hour a day is still not much."

Bruno and Alan have been mostly playing inside – the family has a small backyard, which has given them some access to fresh air and direct sunlight. El Bourj says that while Bruno keeps himself busy with homework and YouTube, the hardest thing has been entertaining Alan.

"He's a very active boy and wasn't getting his energy out," she said as Alan zoomed by on a balance bicycle. "Physical exercise is important. They've been spending most of the time in front of the television or computer."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.