CORONAVIRUS

Secretary general of Spain’s far-right Vox party tests positive for coronavirus

Javier Ortega Smith was recently at an event that attracted 9,000 people in Madrid, where the number of Covid-19 cases has risen sharply

Vox general secretary Javier Ortega Smith during a party rally on Sunday in Madrid.
Vox general secretary Javier Ortega Smith during a party rally on Sunday in Madrid.Ricardo Rubio / Europa Press

The Spanish far-right party Vox confirmed on Tuesday that its secretary general, Javier Ortega Smith, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The group also apologized for organizing an event on Sunday in the Vistalegre arena in Madrid, which was attended by around 9,000 people.

The far-right party did not explain how Ortega Smith, who is a lawmaker in Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies and member of the Madrid local government, contracted the virus. In response to the situation, Vox said in a statement that its 52 deputies will work from home and not enter Congress.

The Spanish government has suspended all direct flights between Spain and Italy

Following the news, Spain’s lower house announced that all parliamentary activity would be suspended for a week. Also on Tuesday, the Spanish government banned all direct flights between Spain and Italy, where the outbreak has led to strict restrictions on travel and public gatherings. The measure will take effect on Wednesday at midnight and last until March 25.

Vox said that it had considered canceling last Sunday’s rally, but decided not to because it “would have been irresponsible to cause alarm by suspending a public event while the rest of the country functioned normally.” Vox used the incident to criticize Spain’s coalition government, run by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and its partners, the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos. In a statement, Vox said the rally went ahead on the belief that the Spanish government “was putting the health of Spaniards before their propaganda agenda.”

Ortega Smith not only attended the event on Sunday, where he greeted dozens of Vox supporters, but was also a central figure at the party’s general assembly on Saturday, which was attended by more than 600 of the party’s European, national, regional and local representatives and officials.

Infections in Madrid

The news comes after the Madrid regional government announced on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus infections had risen to 722, more than half of the 1,648 cases in the country. As of Tuesday afternoon, a total of 21 people have died from Covid-19 in the region, and 35 overall in Spain, with 101 people in intensive care. In an effort to stop the spread of the contagion, the regional government said it will disinfect public transport on a daily basis, in accordance with recommendations from the regional health department. For the time being, authorities have ruled out implementing any restrictions on public transportation.

The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida of the conservative Popular Party (PP), confirmed on Tuesday that one person in Madrid City Hall had tested positive for the coronavirus and two members were awaiting results. Martínez-Almeida maintained that the Spanish capital “is prepared” to deal with the outbreak, arguing: “This is not the city’s most serious or complicated moment.”

Madrid saw the first hotel closures on Tuesday, with the chain Room Mate Group announcing that it will shut three of its six hotels in Madrid for 15 days, starting Wednesday, as a show of “responsibility, generosity and solidarity” toward its guests and staff.

On Tuesday, the city hall of Fuenlabrada in Madrid region became the first local authority to suspend all activities in municipal facilities as well as local events scheduled for the next 15 days. The measure will affect sports and music classes, municipal libraries and theaters, as well as courses and workshops.

Supermarket chaos

Several supermarkets in Madrid opened on Tuesday to long lines of customers wanting to stock up on food and other products. Many were eager to buy supplies before schools close on Wednesday, under the recently announced health measures in parts of Spain aimed at containing the virus.

“We are being left with very few products,” said Wender Montilla, a worker at the Alcampo supermarket in the Madrid neighborhood of Tetuán. Pasta, rice, milk, preserves and toilet paper were the most sought-after products. Supermarket chains, however, ruled out the risk of shortages and maintained that supply was guaranteed despite the increased demand from customers.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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