Coronavirus: Spain extends state of emergency by six months

Health minister warns of ‘long winter’ as 23,580 new cases are reported in a day

A street in downtown Barcelona. The region of Catalonia has announced additional restrictions on weekends for the next two weeks, preventing movement to and from towns and cities. Photograph:  EPA/Enric Fontcuberta

A street in downtown Barcelona. The region of Catalonia has announced additional restrictions on weekends for the next two weeks, preventing movement to and from towns and cities. Photograph: EPA/Enric Fontcuberta

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Spain’s leftist government has received approval from parliament to extend a national state of emergency until May.

The measure, which was introduced last Sunday as part of efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus, includes a curfew, and gives regional governments increased powers to implement their own restrictions.

The present state of emergency expires on November 9th, and on Thursday the government of Pedro Sánchez asked congress to keep it in place for another six months.

“A long winter is coming,” health minister Salvador Illa told the chamber. “We will have to adapt to a holiday season that will be different. But we are convinced that an extra effort is needed because this is about protecting the health of the most vulnerable, protecting the national healthcare system and protecting its professionals.”

The motion was approved with 194 votes in favour, 99 abstentions and 53 votes against. However, the government has agreed to review the state of emergency in March.

Last week Spain became the first European country to surpass 1 million cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. On Thursday the health ministry reported 23,580 new cases, 9,395 of them diagnosed over the previous 24 hours. There were 173 Covid-related deaths since the previous day.

Legal framework

A state of emergency had only been used in the Spanish democratic era once before this year. However, Mr Sánchez has decreed it three times, using the mechanism as the legal framework for a national lockdown in the spring, before triggering it again, exclusively in the Madrid region, earlier this month. Now it is in place nationwide in response to the second wave of coronavirus.

Twelve of Spain’s 17 regional administrations are using the state of emergency to introduce self-confinement, preventing unnecessary travel in and out of those regions.

Catalonia has announced additional restrictions on weekends for the next two weeks, preventing movement to and from towns and cities.

The local government in Madrid, meanwhile, announced the closure of the region’s borders only for certain days during upcoming bank holidays. After a brief standoff on Thursday, the central government agreed to the strategy although it appeared to violate the state of emergency which states that any such measures must be in place for at least a week.

Party in Madrid

As Spain introduces these new measures there has been controversy after government ministers and other political leaders were seen attending a party in Madrid earlier this week.

Photographs of the event, organised by El Español newspaper, showed Mr Illa, among other ministers, sitting and standing close to others present, with some guests removing their face masks. Opposition Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado was also pictured.

Government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero said that although safety measures were in place at the event, it was clear that the political class needed to “take a good look at itself”.