When and how will Spain’s coronavirus lockdown measures end?

When and how will Spain's coronavirus lockdown measures end?
Photos: AFP
As Spain reaches the end of the third week confined at home, the question everyone is asking is when will this be over and normal life resume? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer.

Since March 14th Spain has been on strict lockdown with all but essential trips outside the home banned. That was extended on March 30th to the closure of all businesses and companies not providing key services during the coronavirus crisis.

The huge majority of people have taken individual responsibility seriously and obeyed by the rules but police have been enforcing the measures and have issued more than 270,000 fines fines and made 2,311 arrests.

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How long will lockdown last?

The measures were extended beyond an initial two week period to April 11. But don’t think about making any plans to celebrate your liberty quite yet.

The Spanish government has said it is still considering options to extend the confinement yet again, and will make an announcement in the next few days, most likely after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday April 7

On Thursday evening Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced that a decision would be made on extending the lockdown for another fortnight, that would see the measures continue until April 26.

But it could well be extended beyond even that date if the government considers the measures are still necessary.

Is it working?

According to the latest data which shows a slowing in the number of people being hospitalized with the coronavirus, it seems Spain may have reached its peak although experts have warned there is still worse to come before it gets better.

Health Minister Salvador Illa confirmed on Thursday that Spain had reached the peak of the contagion curve and had now entered the “slowdown phase”:

The number of deaths is expected to continue to rise as those hospitalized cases worsen but the increase in numbers entering Intensive Care Units had fallen to 4 percent on Thursday from 16 percent a week earlier.

A team at Valencia’s Universidad Politénica predict that the peak of patients needing treatment in UCIs across Spain will occur on April 9th.

How will quarantine end?

Experts are predicting that Spain will be unlikely to lift the restrictions en masse as that would likely only spark up contagion again.

Instead there may be a staggered lifting of the lockdown with all those vulnerable people staying shielded but those workers who aren’t able to work from home returning to the work place.

The team at Valencia’s Universidad Politénica predict that the best way to ensure the coronavirus is kept under control will be with a staggered lifting allowing 25 percent of the population to exit confinement week by week.

They suggest it is likely that from May 1st such a plan could be rolled out with a quarter of the population allowed out each week during May, although they would still be expected to maintain social distancing.

Rafael Villanueva, the lead author of the study, said that i”n the best case scenario the warmer weather that comes with May plus continued social distancing could see the rate of contagion reduced to a third”.

But he admitted: “There is still so much we don't know about the coronavirus.” 

The details have not yet been discussed but it would mean that there are likely to be restrictions in place, if not total lockdown, throughout most of May too.  

Testing

Experts agree that widespread screening of the population will be crucial to end lockdown safely, in particular to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus who can infect others.

Therefore the success of lifting the lockdown will depend on extensive testing for coronavirus, something which is not yet possible in Spain.

Authorities have insisted that they are working on introducing widespread screening of the population with the introduction of a rapid tests for the covid-19 but there have been setbacks.

Currently Spain is only those who are admitted into hospital for the coronavirus as well as prioritising testing of health workers and key workers on the frontline of the battle against the heath crisis.

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