MADRID: Spain on Saturday (Mar 14) followed Italy and imposed a near total nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of coronavirus by banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.
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 among the measures introduced as part of a 15-day state of emergency 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 dinner at a friend’s house”, he added.
Police would ensure the restrictions on people’s movements are obeyed, said the prime minister, whose office later announced that his wife Begona Gomez had tested positive for the virus.
“The measures which we have adopted are drastic and will unfortunately have consequences … but our hand will not shake to prevail against the virus,” Sanchez added.
“We will win this battle … but it is important that the price we pay for this victory be as little as possible.”
READ: France closes shops, restaurants, tells people to stay home
Sanchez said he was aware the measures will have a major impact on citizens and businesses but promised the government would do all it can to mitigate the impact.
“I want to tell the workers, the self-employed, and businesses that the government of Spain is going to do everything in its power to cushion the effects of this crisis,” he said.
Bars, restaurants, shops selling anything but food and other basic staples, conference centres and all leisure and sports activities – including cinemas, theatres, swimming pools or football grounds – will be shut down.
Public transport will be curtailed, with medium-distance rail operators ordered to reduce their services.
The decree does not, however, foresee closing the country’s borders.
Spain’s Interior Ministry will control all police forces, including local and regional ones, under the 15-day emergency, and the armed forces would be on stand-by to help if needed.
The health and transport ministries would also have nationwide reach, taking over some local or regional powers, according to the plan, which Catalan and Basque leaders immediately criticised after it was leaked as a draft.
With schools shut across Spain and a first package of economic steps announced on Thursday, the government had also been expected to announce economic and social measures on Saturday to mitigate the impact of the fight against the coronavirus.
But ministers failed to agree in a seven-hour cabinet meeting on Saturday on what these should be, a source close to the negotiations told Reuters.
Sanchez said the government would adopt these measures at its next cabinet meeting. Adding that there will be a big economic impact from the fight against the coronavirus, he said the government would do all it can to mitigate this.