Zero tolerance: What Spain is doing to keep people in lockdown during coronavirus crisis

The Spanish state is increasing measures to keep people in their homes as it nears the end of its first week in COVID-19 enforced lockdown.

Zero tolerance: What Spain is doing to keep people in lockdown during coronavirus crisis
Police patrolling the streets in Burgos. Photo: AFP

The Ministry of Health today announced there are 19,998 total cases in Spain, with 1,141 patients in intensive care and a further 1,002 who have already died from the virus. 

Whilst most have obeyed the government shutdown, for some Spaniards being confined in side was just too much and those who were caught venturing outside without valid reason have been issued with fines, or even arrested.

The number of arrests of those caught disobeying the measures during the first five days of lock down amounted to 157 people by Friday morning. In Madrid alone, 907 people have been issued with fines for breaking the lockdown rules.

But the Interior Ministry on Friday warned that while the first week was a useful transition period, the “time has come to implement fully the state of alert” and announced it was stepping up measures. 

The Ministry said it would now be boosting the 260,000 police officers available with an additional 131,000 military personnel to impose the lockdown.

As a consequence streets across Spain are now largely desolate except for police patrols. 


Police cars patrol Constitution Square in central Malaga. Photo: AFP

Only those who are lucky enough to have dogs are able to stroll the streets without having to prove that they are on an essential shopping trip. 

In Madrid drones patrol the streets and blare warnings to stay at home through speakers, while in Murcia police cars cruise deserted streets and make announcements through megaphones.

Worried citizens look on from balconies, knowing they can only leave the house for essential travel to supermarkets and pharmacies – and must somehow prove that’s where they’re going – but not when the lockdown will be lifted.

They do know that those who ignore the royal decree can face fines of up to €30,000, although most have been in the region of €600.

El Diario reports 3,270 citizens across Spain have been fined for ignoring the isolation measures and that repeat offenders may even face prison sentences. 


Officers from the Catalan region police force Mossos d'Esquadra question people in Barcelona. Photo: AFP

The Police Chief Commissioner, Jose Angel Gonzalez, has described those who break the self-isolation measures as behaving with an “irresponsibility and… lack of solidarity.”

Both the infamous Citizen Security Law (widely known in Spain as the “Gag Law”) and the Penal code could be used to impose the lockdown more stringently.

With all but essential travel now forbidden, Transport Minister Josè Luis Ábalos announced that road traffic has dropped to one-tenth of the 2019 levels and long-distance train routes were only functioning at 2 percent of maximum occupancy.

Air travel has fallen by half, but Ábalos added that there are, as of yet, no plans to permanently suspend air traffic.

This comes as government announces that all hotels will close to help contain the spread of the virus.

Some Spaniards have tried to circumvent the isolation measures, of course, such as this Murciano who seemingly thought the lockdown didn’t apply to dinosaurs, as this video shows:

In Madrid on Thursday, police patrolling the capital in a helicopter discovered what González described as a “party attended by a large number of youths held in an inhospitable place”. Fines were given to all in attendance.

There was one man in Galicia however who was reportedly desperate to be arrested and taken into police custody, according to local newspaper El Far de Vigo. 

The 44-year-old from Vigo reported to his Local Police station and asked to be arrested. “I can't stay another day inside with only my mother for company,” he insisted.

But his pleas were in vain and he was immediately told to go home.

By Conor Faulkner for The Local Spain

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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.