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Barcelona bars spring back to life after five-week coronavirus closure

By Jordi Rubio

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Bustling waiters and the smell of coffee returned to Barcelona's pavements on Monday as bars and restaurants in the Spanish region of Catalonia reopened in a phased easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Suppliers rolled in carts with groceries and masked attendants spaced out tables on terraces and inside as the first customers ordered their morning coffee with croissants.

"The people of the neighbourhood are keen to see the bars reopen, they've been asking us every day and looking forward to this Monday," restaurant owner Eduardo de Vincenzo, 68, told Reuters.

Catalonia was the first Spanish region to fully close bars and restaurants amid the second COVID-19 wave in mid-October, and is the first to put them back to work as the contagion ebbed.

A nighttime curfew remains in place, and tough restrictions continue in the rest of the country as well as most of Europe.

The region also reopened theatres, cinemas, musical halls and outdoor sports facilities with a 50% maximum occupancy.

But after the dismay caused by the second shutdown of the sector this year, proprietors showed little optimism, especially since they still have to close by 9.30 p.m.

"It's very hard because there are taxes, you have to pay everything, there are debts. Before, we did not owe anything and now we owe money, it is a sad reality that I think has happened de around the planet," Vincenzo said.

Susana Rubio, manager of another cafe, said the closure had impacted all staff incomes and she expected business to remain subdued for a while after the pandemic stifled tourism in the world's second most-visited country.

"It is a very slow process ... If there is no tourism our sales fall by half," she said.

Spain, which has more than 1.58 million COVID-19 cases - western Europe's second highest tally after France - and 43,131 dead - imposed a six-month state of emergency in October, giving regions legal backing to impose curfews and restrict travel.

The overall number of infections has grown by close to 26,000 since Friday and deaths increased by 512, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

New infections measured over the past 14 days fell to 374 per 100,000 people as of Monday from 530 in the first week of November. In Catalonia, that rate dropped to around 354.

Spain on Monday started to request a negative coronavirus test in the past 72 hours in travellers arriving by plane or boat from more than 60 countries.

(Reporting by Jordi Rubio, Luis Felipe Castilleja, additional reporting by Joan Faus; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alison Williams)

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