Madrid's flea market, El Rastro, shrinks a little for reopening

People shop at El Rastro flea market, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid, Spain November 22, 2020. REUTERS/Javier Barbancho

MADRID, (Reuters) - Madrid's vast flea market, El Rastro, reopened with a sigh of relief on Sunday with tightened security and fewer stalls, more than eight months after closing because of the coronavirus.

Visitor numbers, which can top 100,000 on a normal Sunday, were limited to 2,000 at a time, while stalls were spaced further apart and police stood at the entrances and exits to ensure people stuck to a one-way route around the market, held in the neighbourhoods of La Latina and Lavapies.

The market, which brings the streets to life every Sunday and national holiday, has been shut since Spain's first national lockdown, in March. On Sunday, stallholders and locals wearing masks welcomed even a partial return to normality.

"This is my neighbourhood and El Rastro is part of us. We missed it a lot; it's great to have it here again," said pharmacist Nuria Ponce, 34.

Dressed in traditional regional clothes, Julian Canas, 53, was selling barquillos, a sweet wafer traditionally sold on the street.

"I used to come every Sunday morning to sell at El Rastro, and not being able to was really bad for us," he said.

El Rastro, held every Sunday and public holiday, draws tourists and locals, many of whom combine their visit with a tipple and some tapas in one of the many adjacent bars.

Records of the market date back to 1740, and these days you can pick up everything from jewellery and antiques to T-shirts and kitchenware.

"I feel very safe because, walking around, I've seen there are police checks at all the entrances and exits, and they have a little route (to follow)," said flight attendant Belen Daras, 36.

Spain has western Europe's second highest tally of confirmed coronavirus infections after France, with some 1.5 million cases and 46,619 deaths.

(Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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