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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.
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.