Spain declares emergency as coronavirus shuts down parades, schools, shops

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain said it would declare a 15-day state of emergency from Saturday, signaling a sharp escalation in its fight against the coronavirus, as some regions shut shops, car plants ground to a halt and church authorities canceled some Easter parades.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the number of cases could top 10,000 by next week – more than double the current level – and asked citizens to play their part.

“Heroism is also washing your hands and staying home,” Sanchez said in a televised address to the nation on Friday. “Victory depends on every one of us, in our home, our family, our work, our neighborhood.”

Spain has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe after Italy. The current Spanish tally stands at 4,231, up about 1,000 cases from Thursday and seven times as many as on Sunday. About 120 people have died.

Sanchez did not spell out what emergency powers he would use, or what help shut-down businesses would get. The order allows the government to confine people, ration supplies and requisition factories and buildings, apart from private homes.

Madrid’s regional government said in a statement that starting at midnight (2300 GMT) and until at least March 26, bars, restaurants and shops, except for food shops, petrol stations and others selling essential items, would be closed to the public.

Bars and restaurants would still be able to provide home delivery services or have food picked up at the premises.

Earlier on Friday, Catalonia, Spain’s second-richest region, ordered the closure of gyms, nightclubs and shopping centers, apart from ones selling food.

Meanwhile, the region of Murcia in the southeast announced a 14-day lockdown of seven coastal tourist towns. Regional chief Fernando Lopez Miras pinned the blame for the “drastic” measure on the irresponsibility of people who had “treated quarantine as a holiday” and come to the coast from other regions.

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The move would affect some 376,000 people, local media said.

The restrictions have also reached deep into Spanish culture. Church authorities canceled Holy Week processions in Spain’s largest northwestern city, Valladolid, and on the island of Mallorca. The events, which this year are due to start in early April, usually draw crowds of believers and tourists.

Madrid, which accounts for half of Spain’s coronavirus cases, was unusually quiet on Friday, with shops, streets and cafes largely deserted.


The decision by regional authorities to close bars and shops – apart from supermarkets and pharmacies – in the capital and the surrounding region from Saturday was met with dismay and confusion by some workers in the sector.

“It is a disaster for employers and workers,” 39-year old Mustafa Elkeneski, a waiter in a cafe in the center of the city.

“We don’t know how it will work out. The issue of pay is up in the air.”

Schools have already closed across Spain, as have cinemas, theaters and playgrounds. Several regions have suspended trials.

Supply problems due to the outbreak prompted some Spanish plants of the Renault-Nissan alliance and Volkswagen’s Spanish division Seat to announce temporary stoppages on Friday that could last for days or weeks. [L8N2B66L1]

Catalan authorities on Thursday locked down four towns around the village of Igualada – 49 km (30 miles) north of Barcelona – after an outbreak in the area, the first large-scale action of its kind in Spain.

The government and regional authorities started ramping up measures on Monday, including banning flights from Italy and giving small and medium businesses a moratorium on paying taxes.

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