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Spain imposes near total lockdown to fight coronavirus

Spain officially entered a state of alert on Saturday, on the day the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surged by 1,500 in 24 hours.

Spain imposes near total lockdown to fight coronavirus
Businesses remain closed across Spain: AFP

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Spain on Saturday banned people from leaving home except to go to work, visit a doctor or buy essential supplies, in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced the restrictions on movement following a huge spike in the number of infections in this nation of some 46 million people.

They are part of a package of measures introduced as part of a 15-day state of alert officially declared by his government on Saturday.   

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What you can and can’t do during Spain’s state of alert

Spain confirmed more than 1,500 new cases of coronavirus since Friday evening, raising its total to 5,753 cases, the second-highest number in Europe after Italy.

The disease has so far claimed 183 lives in Spain.   

“The prohibition to circulate in the streets… must be followed starting today,” he said in a televised address after a cabinet meeting that lasted more than seven hours.

Spaniards may leave home to go to work, “buy bread”, go to the pharmacy and get medical care but “not to go have diner at a friend's house”, he added.    

All stores except for pharmacies and supermarkets will close nationwide, the premier said.
   “Our hands will not shake to prevail against the virus,” Sanchez said.    

Bars, restaurants and all shops except for supermarkets had already shut on Saturday for two weeks in the Madrid region, which accounts for over half of all infections.

Earlier on Saturday the mayor of Seville announced that the southern city's famous Holy Week processions featuring hooded penitents would be cancelled because of the outbreak of the virus.


A note reading “We will come back stronger” is displayed on the window of a closed coffee shop in Barcelona

The decision was announced on Friday afternoon after an emergency cabinet meeting. The government said it would adopt a series of extraordinary measures in order “to mobilise all the resources of state to better protect the health of all of its citizens”.

“Unfortunately we cannot rule out that over the next week we could reach more than 10,000 infections,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez Sanchez said.   

The number of cases in Spain has increased tenfold since last Sunday, and bars, restaurants and all sporting and cultural institutions have been closed. The Madrid region, which is the country's worst-hit with nearly 3,000 cases, has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses. 

On Saturday it was announced that former NATO secretary-general Javier Solana was being treated at a Madrid hospital for coronavirus, a source close to the Spanish politician confirmed.

So what is a “state of alert”

This is an exceptional decree that is covered in article 116 of Spain’s constitution and is the first of three measures that include “state of emergency” and “state of siege”, which are in place in case the government needs to introduce extraordinary measures to protect  the country.

Why not a state of emergency?

The difference between the “state of alert” or “state of alarm” as it is also translate is, and the other two “emergency states” is that it can order exceptional measures but cannot affect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech or right to demonstrate.

The other two are really designed for use when dealing with “coup d’etat” or war situation.

What does it mean?

The measure allows the government to use extraordinary steps to protect citizens and respond to a social and emergency situation.

It means that the state can mobilize resources quickly for the good of the country.

These include accessing funds, taking health measures and even mobilizing the army to respond to the emergency.

It also means that they impose travel restrictions, limit supplies by introducing rationing or commandeer supply chains to ensure essentials reach those that need them.

It will also mean that the state can requisition supplies and can occupy essential premises, such as factories, warehouses or any commercial premises.

It could also impose rationing or introduce measures to guarantee the supply of essentials.

Has it been invoked before?

This is only the second time since Spain’s transition to democracy after the death of Franco in 1975 that a State of alert has been called. The only other time was in 2010 when the army were called in to man the air traffic control systems after the air traffic controllers went out on strike.

What’s the difference between normal life and in a state of alert?

Until now all measures recommended by authorities to deal with the coronavirus have been exactly that; recommendations. But under a state of alert they become ‘orders’.

Under the terms of a state of alert people won’t be asked to avoid non-essential travel but could be banned from moving around Spain freely without a permit.

What measures will be imposed?

While Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that the decision had been taken to invoke a “state of alert”, he has yet to outline what that will involve.

On Saturday there will be an emergency cabinet meeting and meeting with all the regional leaders to decide the next steps.

How long will it last?

The “state of alert” can last a maximum of 15 days and can only be extended with the permission of Congress.



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Member comments

  1. I live near Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca and have been told that it is not permissible for two people (even husband & wife)to travel together in a car to visit a supermarket to shop during the lockdown. I am not able to confirm this despite various internet searches searches.

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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.