Coronavirus: Spain Limits Public Movement, Shuts Down Bars, Restaurants, Hotels, and More

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MADRID (AP) – Spain´s government is set to announce Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movements and closing restaurants and other establishments in the nation of 46 million people as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

The Associated Press has access to the draft of the battery of measures that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will announce in a nationally televised address.

According to the draft of the government order, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food and medicine, commute to work, go to medical centers and banks, or take trips related to the care for the young and the elderly. Those limitations will take hold at Monday at 8:00 a.m.

Effectively immediately, Spain is also closing all restaurants, bars, hotels, education centers nationwide, and other non-essential retail outlets, a move some of the hardest-hit communities have already carried out.

The government said that the official measures to be taken are open to last-minute changes before the prime minister details them in his address.

Health authorities in Spain said Saturday that coronavirus infections have reached 5,753 people, half of them in the capital, Madrid. That represents a national increase of over 1,500 in 24 hours.

Sánchez acknowledged on Friday that the number of infections could reach 10,000 in the coming days.

Spain has followed Italy´s path in implementing a similar lockdown after both European countries failed to contain the virus in regional hotspots.

Italy extended the strict restriction on movement from the north to the entire country on March 9 when it registered over 9,000 infections. It then went further on March 11 and closed all retail outlets except some supermarkets and pharmacies.

Already in Spain, residents in Madrid and northeast Catalonia awoke Saturday to shuttered bars and restaurants and other non-essential commercial outlets as ordered by regional authorities the day before.

The decision by prime minister Sánchez comes after some regions of Spain with viral clusters had taken steps to close restaurants and other non-essential establishments. The regional leaders of Madrid and Catalonia had also asked for the central government to help tighten the screws on transport and restrict the circulation of people.

The normally bustling streets of Spain´s two biggest cities were noticeably quieter as the message sinks in that social distancing is the only way to stop the global pandemic after its eruption in China.

“We had to close and remain shut for 15 days,” restaurant owner Rachel Paparardo said in Barcelona, Catalonia’s largest city. “But this is nothing, it is just so more people don´t get infected and we can recover from this.”

Spooked shoppers packed some supermarkets early in the morning despite calls for calm from authorities and supermarket owners.

In the capital, however, the town hall was forced to close parks after many people continued their Saturday morning jogs and other outdoor pastimes.

“I live in the city center and I like to see it empty,” said Madrid resident Carmen Melon. “I like to see that I think people are being responsible and the people who have to stay at home are doing it. Today I have to work, just one hour, but later I will stay home too.”

Authorities and public health care workers, as well as television and radio news anchors, are making pleas for people to stay at home in order to reduce the spiking contagion curve.

Authorities in parts of southern Spain have also blocked access to coastal areas in an attempt to stop people who had taken advantage of the closing of schools this week and “work from home” options to take impromptu beach trips.

A state of emergency allows the central government to limit free movement, legally confiscate goods and take over control of industries and private facilities, including private hospitals. It’s only the second time that the government has evoked it since the return of democracy in the late 1970s. The other was declared during a 2010 air traffic controllers’ strike.

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Wilson reported from Barcelona. AP journalists Iain Sullivan in Madrid and Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute´s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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