After a seven-hour Cabinet meeting, and a series of delays, Spanish Prime Minister addressed the nation on Saturday evening to announce the conditions of the state of alarm that ministers approved today, and that went into action immediately, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
“As you know, Spain is facing a public health emergency that requires extraordinary decisions,” he said. “This is a global pandemic and is damaging for citizens as a whole. Health experts have explained to us over and over again that this is not a static situation. We have been adapting the scenarios of response to such a dynamic situation. Our mission and determination is maximum, it is to protect Spaniards and to beat the virus.”
The latest information supplied on Saturday morning by the central Health Ministry put the number of people in Spain infected by the coronavirus at 5,700, with at least 136 deaths from the Covid-19 disease and 517 patients cured and released from hospital.
Sánchez went on to warn that the measures the government is going to adopt during a 15-day period are, “unfortunately, drastic and are going to have consequences.”
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). It is the lowest of these categories that was today approved by the Cabinet, after a long meeting that apparently dragged out given disagreements between the Socialist Party and its junior partner in the coalition government, Unidas Podemos. The latter party was calling for better measures to assist workers who will be affected by the state of alarm and the ongoing coronavirus crisis, according to government sources.
The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader explained on Saturday that the state of alarm will be extended, if necessary, with the approval of Congress. All of Spain’s police forces will be under the direct orders of the Interior Ministry, he said, adding that “we will have at our disposal the Armed Forces – the Army is prepared for this.”
All retail activity is suspended apart from businesses selling foodstuffs, pharmacies, tobacconists, suppliers of IT equipment, newsstands, hairdressers and dry cleaners
Sánchez explained that, as had been expected after a draft of the decree was leaked earlier today, all travel across Spain is restricted from Saturday night, with citizens only able to leave their homes to make journeys in order to travel to supermarkets, their jobs, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, and other such essential destinations.
“In the education system, all classes are suspended including universities,” he added. “During the period of suspension, online education activity will continue.”
Sánchez explained that all retail activity is suspended apart from businesses selling foodstuffs, pharmacies, tobacconists, suppliers of IT equipment, newsstands and dry cleaners. Hairdressers were initially to remain open but the Spanish government corrected that decision on Sunday and ordered that they also be closed.
“Physical presence in commercial premises should be limited to what is strictly necessary,” he said, adding that large crowds must be avoided, and consumers and employees must maintain a meter of distance between one another in order to avoid contagion.
The prime minister also announced that museums, sports venues, bars and restaurants must close, with the exception of those that deliver meals to people’s homes.
“I am also announcing that in order to ensure the supply of goods, the Health Ministry will be able to impose the necessary orders for the provision of the market,” he said. “The Health Ministry will be able to impose obligatory personal requisitions.”
The prime minister added that the Spanish government would guarantee the supply of foodstuffs.
He also appealed for unity among regional leaders. “We must all leave aside our differences, get behind the Spanish government, and between us all, we will beat the virus.” He called on politicians to “learn from the 40 years of our Constitution. We are going to provide a joint response, like the great state of regions that we are, with the Spanish government leading.”
Sánchez added that “the objective is to stop the spread of the virus and to eliminate it. When we can see that the curve of the diffusion of the virus slows, this will be the first collective victory.”
He also called for an end to “hoaxes, speculation and fake news via checked information.”
Sánchez called on Spaniards to “make a commitment to the most vulnerable members of society. Our seniors gave us more than help, they have set a great example. In this crisis they need our help.”
He concluded the press conference by thanking all of those who are fighting against the coronavirus, from health staff and police, to the armed forces and scientific researchers.
“The more lives we save, the more sick people we can avoid, the greater the victory will be,” he said. “Let there be no doubts – together we will move forward. Together, we will beat the virus.”
English version by Simon Hunter.