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

A waiter stands outside a typical bar as he waits for customers in unusually quiet Postas street in central Madrid
A waiter stands outside a typical bar as he waits for customers in unusually quiet Postas street in central Madrid, Spain, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Spain said it would declare a 15-day state of emergency from Saturday, signalling a sharp escalation in its fight against the coronavirus, as some regions shut shops and church authorities cancelled at least two 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 neighbourhood.”

He 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 other buildings, apart from private homes.

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

The restrictions reached deep into Spanish culture. Church authorities cancelled Holy Week processions in Spain’s largest northwestern city, Valladolid, and on the Balearic 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.

“A DISASTER”

Spanish media said authorities has decided to close bars and shops – apart from supermarkets and pharmacies – in the capital and the surrounding region from Saturday.

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

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

Spain has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe after Italy. The current Spanish tally stands at 4,209, up by about 1,000 cases from Thursday and seven times as much as on Sunday. About 120 people have died.

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

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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