BARCELONA, Spain – Under the resurgence of the coronavirus in Europe, the Spanish government on Sunday declared a national emergency, imposing an overnight curfew in the hope that the collapse of the country’s hospitals would not be repeated.
Prime Minister Pedro Sంచnchez said the decision to restrict free movement on the streets of Spain between 11am and 6am would allow exemptions for commuting to work, buying medicine and caring for the elderly and young family members. He said the curfew would take effect Sunday night and would remain in place for six months.
“The reality is that Europe and Spain are sinking in a second wave of the epidemic,” Sanchez said in a nationwide speech after meeting with his cabinet. “The situation we live in is serious.”
Leaders of Spain’s 17 regions and two autonomous cities have the power to set different hours for curfews, close regional borders to travel and restrict meetings to six people who do not live together. .
Curfew does not apply to the Canary Islands of Spain, which were recently removed from the list of unsafe travel destinations by Britain and Germany due to the favorable trajectory of the virus in the archipelago.
With the mainland curfew, Spain is following the example of neighboring France, where the government this week imposed a 9pm-6am curfew on major cities and large areas of the country.
Health officials have targeted nightlife and partying for a fresh resurgence of infections.
Sanchez said he would ask the lower house of parliament this week to extend the state of emergency until May. As stipulated in the Constitution, the state of emergency shall not exceed two weeks without the approval of the Deputies of Congress.
Spain’s second state of emergency in the pandemic was not limited to the mandatory house arrest ordered by Sanchez in March and lasted for six weeks before a gradual easing as the number of newly confirmed cases decreased.
“There is no house arrest in this emergency, but the more we are at home, the safer we are. Everyone knows what they have to do,” the prime minister said Sunday.
Authorities are trying to prevent a second complete shutdown of the country’s 47 million residents to prevent another major blow to the economy, which has plunged into a recession and destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Since the infection rate began to rise again in August, health experts have been clamoring for action at the national level, arguing that the crisis requires more than a patchwork of regional measures.
Several regional leaders, who manage Spain’s decentralized health care system, have in recent days called on the national government to declare a national emergency.
The emergency will be facilitated if the authorities take swift action without obtaining the various types of public health sanctions approved by the judge. Some judges rejected attempts to restrict public movement in certain areas, causing confusion among the public.
Spain became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially registered COVID-19 cases this week. Sanchez admitted in a national television speech on Friday that the actual number could be over 3 million due to gaps in the test and other factors.
Spain reported nearly 20,000 new cases and 231 deaths on Friday, bringing the country’s death toll from the epidemic to 34,752, but the actual death toll is much higher. The number of confirmed cases is increasing in the peninsula, the Balearic Islands and two African enclaves of Spain.
During the first emergency, Spanish military battalions were deployed to disinfect retirement homes and set up field hospitals. So far, this is not necessary as Spain’s retirement homes are well-prepared and its hospitals are slow, steady, raising cases.
“The death toll should be as low as possible, but we must also protect our economy,” Sanchez said.