State of alarm - what does this mean?

Empty roads near Madrid on Saturday morning.
Empty roads near Madrid on Saturday morning. / EP
  • Spain is activating the first of its three state of emergency levels, which allows the government to restrict movement among other measures

The Spanish government is due to declare an "estado de alarma" across the country this Saturday after a special Cabinet meeting. The mechanism unlocks a range of drastic measures the government could use to curb the spread of coronavirus.

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

Once the 'estado de alarma' has been declared, the government can act in a number of areas.

Forced confinement and restriction of movement. Pedro Sánchez could enforce quarantine in the whole country, as his counterpart did in Italy last weekend. The general public can only move around the country if authorised for work, health or emergency reasons.

Intervention of businesses and property. The government could temporarily seize private assets, occupy factories, workshops or premises of any kind except for private homes.

Private health. The law also allows the government to force doctors and nurses who work in the private health system to lend their services to the public system. The government could also use materials and premises of private facilities.

Rations and supply. The government could ration the acquisition of basic goods and bring in measures to guarantee supply.

Time limit. The measures taken under the state of alarm can only last for two weeks. Any extension has to be expressly approved by Congreso.