Coronavirus: Spain declares state of emergency

Spanish residents to be told to stay home and transport will be curtailed, says draft decree

Locals in Madrid, Spain have taken to their balconies to applaud health workers who are currently battling the coronavirus epidemic. Video: Reuters


Spain is declaring a state of emergency effective immediately for 15 days, significantly limiting mobility in the country as the government seeks to stop the expansion of Covid-19, said prime minister Pedro Sanchez in televised speech on Saturday.

The Spanish government will take full control of administration nationwide, said Mr Sanchez after a seven-hour cabinet meeting.

The state of emergency places severe restrictions on movement and Spaniards will only be allowed to leave their houses for specific circumstances, he said.

People must stay home except to buy food, go to the pharmacy, to the hospital, or to work or for other emergencies. Public transport will be curtailed to carry fewer people but will not be suspended.

Spain’s interior ministry will control all police forces, including local and regional ones.

The health and transport ministries will also have nationwide reach, taking over some local or regional powers.

Earlier in the day, authorities in Madrid urged people to stay home, the southern city of Seville announced the cancellation of hugely popular Holy Week celebrations and shops in several regions shut down on Saturday as Spain scrambled to try and fight the coronavirus.

Spain is the second-hardest hit country in Europe after Italy, with 5,753 cases recorded on Saturday, up by a third from Friday even as health authorities in Madrid, which has the highest number of cases, stopped testing people with only mild symptoms.

Mr Sanchez’s government took few steps at first to impose tough measures and changed tack only this week as numbers soared. The opposition has criticised the government for letting events like International Women’s Day marches go ahead a week ago.

Spain People’s Party opposition leader Pablo Casado said the government’s reaction to the virus has been too slow.

With schools now shut across the country and a first package of economic measures announced on Thursday, the government is expected to announce a new package of economic and social measures alongside the 15-day state of emergency measures.

In an increasingly deserted capital city, where all shops except supermarkets and pharmacies have shut down, posters put up by the city authorities read: “The best option to prevent the propagation of the virus is to stay at home.” – Bloomberg/Reuters