Coronavirus lockdown: First four towns quarantined in Spain

Four towns in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region were put under quarantine on Thursday, the civil protection agency said, in a first in the country.

Coronavirus lockdown: First four towns quarantined in Spain
File photo of Catalan police team. Photo: AFP

The 66,000 inhabitants of the localities of Igualada, Odena, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Vilanova del Cami “cannot leave their urban core” although they can leave their homes, a statement said, citing instructions from Catalonia's governor.  

? Trabajamos en el confinamiento en Igualada, Santa Margarida de Montbui, Òdena y Vilanova del Camí a partir de las 21h:
?Quien pueda acreditar q no vive en el municipio podrá salir tras ser identificado
?Quien quiera entrar en la ciudad lo podrá hacer xa quedarse#Coronavirus

— Mossos (@mossos) March 12, 2020

In a tweet from the Catalan police force above, they said those who can prove they are not residents in the municipalities will be allowed to leave before but those who want to enter will be forced to stay. 

Catalonia's health minister Alba Verges tod reporters that the authorities would be focussing on Igualada, a town of 40,000 inhabitants which is only 70 kilometres ( (40 miles) from the regional capital Barcelona, as the number of cases was growing rapidly.   

There are currently 58 cases in the town, 38 more than on Wednesday, he said.

Spain has seen the number of infections spiral since the start of the week, becoming one of the worst-hit countries in Europe.   

Madrid has borne the brunt of the crisis, clocking up 1,388 infections and 38 deaths by Thursday morning.

Late on Thursday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave a televised press conference without any
journalists present, answering questions posed via WhatsApp.

“To beat the virus as quickly as possible, responsibility and social discipline is essential. This requires big changes in our habits,” said Sanchez who will conduct all future meetings by video conference.

Sanchez said the government had agreed on a raft of economic measures including a tax moratorium for affected companies as well as funding for the worst-hit sectors, such as tourism — which accounts for 12 percent of Spain's GDP.

In total, some 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion) would be unblocked, including nearly 3.0 billion for the regional health authorities, he said, with the tax deferrals and delayed payments amounting to some 14 billion euros.

His remarks came after yet another dire session for Spain's benchmark Ibex-35 which plunged more than 14 percent at the close, the worst drop on record .

Also Thursday, La Liga said Spain's top two divisions would be suspended for at least two weeks after Real Madrid confirmed its senior football team was in quarantine after one of the club's basketball players tested positive for the virus.   

The club's football and basketball players share facilities at Ciudad Real Madrid, its training ground in Valdebebas.

The culture ministry also announced the nationwide closure of all state-run museums.   

Also Thursday, seven other Spanish regions announced school closures, among them the northern regions of Catalonia, Aragon, Navarre, the Basque Country and Galicia, as well as Murcia in the south east and the Canary Islands.   

Such measures are already in place in the Madrid region and La Rioja.



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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.