Spain has implemented drastic measures in a bid to tackle the fast-spreading coronavirus.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez addressed the nation on Saturday evening to announce the moves being taken in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus — there have been 6,271 confirmed cases and 189 people have died.
From Sunday on, the country’s 46 million citizens can only leave their homes to buy groceries and pharmaceutical products, go to the bank or hospital, or to take care of dependents. While on the street, they must be unaccompanied at all times, and while they can go to work, most workplaces are to be closed to the public until further notice. Among the exceptions are markets and pharmacies, but also barbershops, dry cleaners and stores that sell tobacco products.
As part of the “state of alarm” measures, Spain’s armed forces, police and civil protection officers, as well as the country’s health workers, are now under the direct command of the national government. Air, rail, maritime and road transport will continue, but are being reduced by between 40 and 60 percent, and flights to the Canary and Balearic Islands, as well as to the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Meilla in North Africa, are to be reduced by half.
The decree signed by the government closes all schools, museums, libraries, hotels and restaurants, and prohibits sporting and cultural activities. The government also reserves the right to take over factories and energy utilities.
Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias attended the meeting in person, ignoring medical advice that he remain in quarantine for two week.
Emergency powers are to be administered by Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Defense Minister Margarita Robles, Transport Minister José Luis Ábalos and Health Minister Salvador Illa, all of whom are linked to Sánchez’s Socialist Party. The decree’s initial duration is 15 days, but it can be extended with the approval of the parliament.
The “state of alarm” was approved a day and a half after Sánchez announced his intention to enact emergency measures, and after a marathon, eight-hour meeting of the coalition government’s Council of Ministers that was marred by tense infighting.
In an unexpected development, Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias attended the meeting in person, ignoring medical advice that he remain in quarantine for two weeks after his partner, Equality Minister Irene Montero, tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday.
According to government officials quoted in El Mundo, Iglesias insisted on showing up to the Council of Ministers in order to object to the concentration of power under Socialist ministers and to demand that politicians belonging to his Unidas Podemos party be given prominent roles in the emergency response team,
The same officials said that the meeting dragged on because Iglesias wanted the decree be modified to include social measures such as government aid aimed at helping needy families pay their rent and mortgages. According to El País, Finance Minister Nadia Calviño opposed the proposal because of its considerable cost in the midst of what will likely be an economic crisis.
The infighting delayed the implementation of the emergency measures and obliged Sánchez to cancel a planned teleconference with the leaders of Spain’s regional governments. Members of the conservative opposition blasted Sánchez for the delay and questioned the coalition government’s capacity to handle the response to the pandemic.
The measures that Iglesias demanded were not included in the final version of the decree, but Sánchez confirmed that additional financial aid would be announced in the coming days.
In his speech announcing the measures, the prime minister apologized for the delay, and many interpreted a comment about it being time to show “responsibility and a commitment to the most vulnerable” citizens as a swipe at his coalition partners. Sánchez dismissed reporters’ questions about the apparent divisions in the coalition government but admitted that his “debate” with Iglesias had been “intense.”
Sánchez was also asked if he planned to do anything about the considerable number of people who have fled Madrid — currently the most affected region of Spain, with 2,940 confirmed cases — and sought refuge in their summer homes on the Spanish coast, likely spreading the virus to less hard-hit regions.
The prime minister sought to downplay the exodus and said he hoped that the public would behave responsibly and adhere to the measures announced in the decree. He added that those who had travelled to their vacation homes would be able to go back to their main homes, but would have to follow government rules when doing so.