Spain ready “for any scenario” amid global coronavirus outbreak

Two potential cases in the Basque Country have tested negative; another patient is under observation in La Rioja

Health Minister Salvador Illa (c) at a meeting of the Coronavirus Monitoring Committee on Sunday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa (c) at a meeting of the Coronavirus Monitoring Committee on Sunday.David Fernandez (EFE)

Spanish health authorities are urging citizens to remain calm in spite of a recent spike of Covid-19 coronavirus cases in Italy, which has locked down several towns and cancelled numerous events, including the end of the world-famous Venice carnival.

In Spain’s northern region of the Basque Country, tests have come back negative on two possible cases of Covid-19, although the patients will remain hospitalized until further tests are conducted. Both individuals had recently traveled to northern Italy.

Health authorities are also investigating a potential case in Spain’s northern La Rioja region, Spanish news agency EFE reported on Monday. The patient is a woman who recently traveled to a footwear trade fair in the Italian city of Milan.

But the Spanish Health Ministry is not contemplating any special measures for now, other than reinforcing information for passengers at seaports and airports, so that anyone showing symptoms will know what steps to take. Passenger screening, border controls and limits on transit will not be implemented at the moment, authorities said.

“Everything we do will be in coordination with Europe and with regional governments,” said Health Minister Salvador Illa on Monday, alluding to the fact that healthcare in Spain is devolved to the regions. “There are measures ready in case it is necessary to adopt them, but for now the experts are not recommending them.”

There are measures ready in case it is necessary to adopt them, but for now the experts are not recommending them
Health Minister Salvador Illa

For now, Spain is ruling out extraordinary measures such as flight restrictions, canceling events where large crowds gather, or asking employees to work from home. But on Sunday, Fernando Simón, head of the Health Ministry’s Center for Alert and Emergency Coordination, said that Spain is prepared “for any possible scenario.”

“Due to our contact with Italy, Iran and South Korea [where there are a high number of coronavirus cases], we need to have a highly sensitive system in order to react if any suspicions arise,” said Simón at a news conference.

Simón ruled out the possibility of Spain closing its borders in an effort to contain the coronavirus, even as Brussels suspects that some of its members may already be planning to do so. “We fear that in the coming days, some countries may consider it,” said a source in the European Commission. This source said that Austria seems like the main candidate to impose a border shutdown for health reasons, after it temporarily halted passenger train traffic to and from Italy via the Brenner pass this weekend.

“Measures are ready, which does not mean they need to be implemented,” he added. “The scenario has changed, but there is a relatively clear control.”

Spanish authorities are particularly concerned about Italy because of its geographical proximity to Spain and the “significant exchange” of people between both countries. Italian authorities confirmed six fatalities on Monday.

Simón said that the Spanish Health Ministry is more worried about the coronavirus cases in South Korea than those in Iran, because “the relationship is a lot closer.” On Monday there were 833 confirmed cases in South Korea, where the coronavirus has killed seven people. Iranian authorities have reported eight deaths and 43 cases.

So far, Spain has had two confirmed cases of the coronavirus, one in the Canary Islands and another one in the Balearic Islands. Both individuals were hospitalized and have since been discharged. And a group of 21 Spaniards who were caught in the Chinese city of Wuhan, at the epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic, were flown home on January 31 and quarantined for 14 days at a Madrid hospital.

In mid-February, the organizers of the Mobile World Congress (MWC), a leading tech innovation showcase held annually in Barcelona, were forced to cancel the event after a number of major exhibitors pulled out due to concerns over the Covid-19 outbreak.

English version by Susana Urra.

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