CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Spanish government declares state of alarm

The measure will allow the authorities to limit the movement of citizens and to ration the use of services in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.EFE

The Spanish government announced on Friday that it was implementing a state of alarm for 15 days in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Speaking during a press conference at around 3.30pm, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez informed the Spanish public that the Cabinet would meet tomorrow to put the measure into effect, allowing the government to temporarily restrict the movement of citizens. Fundamental rights, however, will not be affected.

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“We are only in the first phase of combatting the virus,” Sánchez said on Friday. “We have some very tough weeks ahead of us. We cannot rule out reaching 10,000 [infections] by next week.”

The Socialist Party leader went on to explain that the state of alarm “would allow for the maximum mobilization of resources against the virus, but victory will depend on each one of us. Heroism also consists of washing your hands and staying at home. We are going to stop the virus with responsibility, and with unity.

“We will overcome this emergency by relying on advice from science and with support from all or the resources of the state,” he continued. “But it is also undeniable that we will manage it sooner, and with the least human, economic and social damage possible if we do it together.”

Heroism also consists of washing your hands and staying at home
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Unlike yesterday’s press conference, the prime minister did not take questions on Friday.

Article 116 of the Spanish Constitution describes three legal categories for emergency situations: state of alarm, state of emergency and state of siege (in Spanish: estado de alarma, estado de excepción and estado de sitio).

The move to declare a state of alarm came just 24 hours after a Cabinet meeting at which ministers decided that they would avoid taking this decision, despite calls for it from opposition parties – in particular center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), which has also offered its support to the coalition government – led by the Socialist Party (PSOE) with the support of left-wing Unidas Podemos – for an emergency budget to deal with the situation.

The measures that are included under a state of alarm in Spain include: limiting the circulation or the presence of persons or vehicles at certain times and in certain places; the temporary requisition of any kind of asset; the intervention of, and transitory occupation of, industries, factories, workshops, operations or commercial premises of any kind, with the exception of private households; the limiting or rationing of the use of services or the consumption of essential items; and the issuing of necessary orders in order to ensure supply to markets and the functioning of services in production centers for essential products.

The state of alarm may also be used by the government as a legal means to delay the regional elections in the Basque Country and Catalonia, a more than likely move given the current situation. Sánchez spoke to all political parties to announce his decision before making it public, and will now begin a series of conversations with all of Spain’s regional premiers.

There had been intense internal debates in recent days over the need to take greater steps in Spain

The leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, said on Friday afternoon that he supported the declaration of a state of alarm and even its extension after the initial 15-day period. But he criticized the Sánchez government for what he described as its “negligence,” such as letting the 8-M Women’s Day marches go ahead across Spain on Sunday. He also alleged that the government had been “behind the events” during the coronavirus crisis.

There had been intense internal debates in recent days over the need to take greater steps in Spain in order to halt the spread of the Covid-19 disease, but in the end the prime minister opted on Thursday to continue with the gradual introduction of measures.

However, pressure had grown in the last day given the demands of the opposition parties and the fact that other countries, such as Portugal, have declared a state of alarm despite having far fewer coronavirus cases compared Spain.

A state of alarm has only been implemented once before since Spain returned to democracy at the end of the 1970s: in 2010, when a wildcat strike was staged by the country’s air traffic controllers, bringing plane travel to a halt and causing airport chaos.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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