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Fast-moving spread of Covid-19 sees dramatic nationwide lockdown and life upturned

Police, military and health chiefs at their daily videolink press briefing.
Police, military and health chiefs at their daily videolink press briefing. / EFE
  • The government looks set to seek an extension of the state of alarm, in place now for almost a week

It was as recently as late last week that people in Spain were first digesting the inconvenient news of a possible schools closure. With bewildering speed, just 48 hours later measures had been extended to include a virtual lockdown on all their daily lives.

The fast-moving expansion of measures as the number of coronavirus infected and fatalities rose exponentially forced a seven-hour-long crisis meeting of ministers last Saturday. The rate of increase was now clearly showing the same path as Italy.

On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addressed the country via videolink, taking press questions remotely. The state of alarm came into force on Sunday morning. The general public were to stay at home, unless they needed to go out to buy food or medication, to go to and from work, to care for dependents, or go to the bank, among other exceptions.

The Spanish Constitution includes three state-of-emergency levels that a government can resort to in exceptional circumstances. The first, brought in last weekend, is the 'estado de alarma' (state of alarm); the second, 'estado de excepción' (state of exception); and the third 'estado de sitio' (martial law).

The 'estado de alarma' also allows government to intervene in businesses, property and private health centres, as well as ration supplies.

Possible extension

Initially announced as for two weeks, the government is now openly talking about month-long measures. This will require an MPs' decision on 25 March by remote voting.

"This is a time for social discipline," said Sánchez, stressing the need for each individual to respect their responsibility. Firms habouring medical supplies and masks were asked to come forward.

As people got used to their new home routine and visitors looked for a way out early last week, Interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, kept up the fast pace, saying land borders would be closed and only Spanish citizens or residents allowed into the country. This was ahead of a similar EU-wide ruling the next day.

Further major announcements this week included a package of 200 billion euros for the economy, clarifications to the ban-on-movement decree and the Foreign Affairs ministry explaining how it planned to repatriate 65,000 Spanish tourists trapped around the world. Not to mention the daily mid-morning televised press conferences to an empty room, where the country learned repeatedly that the victim numbers continued to rise.