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Spain to Begin Easing COVID-19 Restrictions in Madrid, Barcelona

Women wearing protective face masks walk past a Spanish flag with a black ribbon for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic, in Madrid, Spain, May 22, 2020.

The Spanish government Friday announced it will allow the cities of Madrid and Barcelona to ease their COVID-19-related lockdown measures beginning Monday.

Most of Spain has begun to slowly reopen since May 11, but those two cities together account for close to half country's roughly 233,000 officially recorded coronavirus cases.

The loosening of limits is staggered over four stages, with a requirement that certain targets, including the number of cases and hospital capacity, are met before moving onto the next stage.

Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters the Madrid region and city of Barcelona are moving into Phase 1, permitting outdoor-only seating at restaurants and bars of 50 percent capacity, gatherings of families and friends of up to 10 people, and the reopening of small shops, museums, movie theaters and places of worship, all with restrictions on capacity.

The health ministry said the lockdown is due to be eased one notch further in other regions. The sparsely populated Canary Islands of La Graciosa, El Hierro and La,” Gomera, as well as Formentera in the Balearics, were freed from most restrictions on Monday.

Illa cautioned the process of reopening the country “is incredibly complex and difficultand the situation will be closely monitored. He called for residents to be prudent “on an individual basis” and continue following social distance guidelines.

Spain's COVID-19 death toll of almost 28,000 is the world's fifth highest.