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Spain to close land borders over coronavirus spread

Spain will close its borders with France and Portugal at midnight on Monday to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Spain to close land borders over coronavirus spread
A checkpoint at the Portugal/Spain border. Photo: AFP

 

The announcement came from Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska on Monday afternoon as the number of deaths in Spain from COVID-19 soared to over 300.

Only Spanish residents returning to their home in Spain or those with authorization would be allowed to cross into Spain, he said, adding that documents would be required to show valid reason for entering.

The closure, which will affect all cross-border traffic with France, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar, was to remain in place until the end of an alert that began on Saturday for an initial period of two weeks although it could be extended with the permission of Spain’s parliament.

The measure will  not affect the transportation of goods, the interior minister pointed out.

Spain has not yet closed air traffic to and from its airports but the interior minister did not rule it out as a step to be taken in the future.

The move came after Spain imposed a string of unprecedented restrictions, ordering its 46 million population to stay home, shuttering everything except food shops, chemists and petrol stations.

But by 2:30 pm (1330 GMT) on Monday, the health ministry had counted 9,191 cases and 309 deaths, prompting the government to announce the closure of its land borders.

The virus has spread like wildfire across Spain, making it the second worst-hit country in Europe after Italy.

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Despite Monday's figures, the increase was lower than the weekend numbers when 2,000 infections were detected between Saturday and Sunday and the number of deaths rose by around 100.

Of the total number, Madrid remains the worst-affected region, with 4,165 cases.

In the worst-case scenario, infections were likely to “continue rising for at least another 10 days,” said Fernando Simon, the health ministry's emergencies coordinator.

In the alert declared on Saturday aimed at curbing the number of infections, the government ordered every household to remain in complete isolation and people have been allowed out only to buy food and medication, or
to go to hospital.    

Everything else has been closed down, with the exception of public transport, which was running a somewhat reduced service to allow those working in essential jobs to get around.

Despite the unprecedented closure, some metro lines and interurban trains were packed to capacity on Monday morning, with travellers forced to squash in at close quarters, media images showed.

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Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos warned that the state of alert, which was initially put in place for a two-week period, would almost certainly be extended in a move which would need the approval of parliament.

“It's clear that we will need to extend this situation… I think it's clear that 15 days won't be enough to win the battle,” he told RNE, Spain's public radio.

So far, troops have been deployed in 14 cities to help efforts to disinfect the streets or ensure compliance with the restrictions on movement.   

Spain's benchmark Ibex-35 tumbled more than 9.0 percent on Monday, mirroring falls in stock markets across the globe, with the restrictions keenly felt in the car industry which represents nearly 10 percent of Spain's gross domestic product (GDP).

Supply problems caused by the crisis have forced Renault, Seat and Nissan to suspend all activity in Spain, Europe's second car manufacturer after Germany.

And PSA, which owns the Peugeot and Citroen brands, also said it was halting production in Spain and across the rest of Europe.   

The lockdown also forced the cancellation of regional elections in the northern regions of Galicia and the Basque Country, local officials said.

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COVID-19

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.

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