Protesters hit the streets of Madrid against virus restrictions on Sunday, a day before a partial lockdown is extended to more areas of Spain's capital region try to curb a surge in coronavirus cases.

The city with its surrounding region is at the epicentre of a second wave of infections sweeping Spain.

Covid-19 has already claimed more than 31,000 lives among more than 700,000 cases nationwide, the highest infection rate in the European Union.

Some 850,000 people in 37 mainly densely-populated low-income districts in southern Madrid have since September 21 been confined to their neighbourhoods, unable to leave except for work, school or medical reasons -- although they are able to move freely within their own areas.

Demonstrators are angry about uneven lockdowns across the Spanish capital region
Demonstrators are angry about uneven lockdowns across the Spanish capital region AFP / OSCAR DEL POZO

Parks in the affected neighbourhoods are closed and restaurants and other businesses must shut at 10 pm in a country with a tradition of eating late.

The regional government of Madrid, which is responsible for health, will from Monday extend the restrictions to eight more districts home to another 167,000 people.

Its latest move falls short of a recommendation from Spain's leftist central government that the partial lockdown should cover the entire city.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Madrid regional parliament in southern district Vallecas, one of the neighbourhoods under partial lockdown since last week, to protest against the restrictions.

One sign at the Madrid protest accused authorities of "segregation"
One sign at the Madrid protest accused authorities of "segregation" AFP / OSCAR DEL POZO

Many complained of discrimination by the authorities.

"It's not lockdown, it's segregation!" the crowd chanted as they briefly blocked a road in front of the assembly.

"They don't confine the rich," was among one of the signs on display at the protest, which drew groups of young people, retired couples and young parents pushing baby strollers.

Madrid hospitals are again coming under strain
Madrid hospitals are again coming under strain AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

Similar smaller demonstrations were held in other parts of the city, including in front of city hall and at the seat of Madrid's regional government in the central Puerta del Sol square.

"It makes no sense that you can go to work in a wealthier area but can't go have a drink," Marcos Ruiz Guijarro, a 27-year-old electrician who like many of his neighbours travels to the centre of Madrid every day to work, told AFP.

"Infections are rising everywhere, the rules should be the same for everyone."

Many demonstrators complained that the regional government was failing to improve public healthcare or doing anything to reduce overcrowding in the transport system, where they said the virus could easily spread.

The protesters clapped in unison while calling for the resignation of regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, under fire for saying that the "lifestyle" of people in the affected neighbourhoods was partly to blame for the rise in Covid-19 cases.

The regional government says it has targeted areas where the contagion rate is above 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.

But national Health Minister Salvador Illa on Friday called on the regional government to extend its restrictions to the entire city as well to surrounding areas with more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

He warned that hospitals in the region of around 6.6 million people are already overrun with coronavirus cases, and it should prepare for some "hard weeks" ahead.

In a tweet on Sunday he once again urged the regional government of Madrid to "review the measures it announced and follow the recommendations of scientists and health experts".

Since the central government ended its state of emergency on June 21, responsibility for managing the pandemic has been transferred to Spain's 17 autonomous regions.

Over the past week, Spain has registered the highest number of new cases within the EU with a rate of nearly 300 per 100,000 inhabitants -- but in the Madrid region, the figure is currently more than 700 per 100,000.