Catalan authorities confine 70,000 residents of four municipalities in bid to slow coronavirus infections

The measures affect the Barcelona towns of Igualada, Vilanova del Camí, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Òdena, and will be in place for at least two weeks

Mossos officers speak to motorists on Thursday near Igualada
Mossos officers speak to motorists on Thursday near IgualadaSusanna Sáez / EFE

The Catalan regional government on Thursday evening ordered a complete lockdown in the Barcelona municipalities of Igualada, Vilanova del Camí, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Òdena, confining a total of 70,000 inhabitants to their towns. The move came in a bid to slow the transmission of the biggest outbreak of the coronavirus so far identified in the northeastern Spanish region.

From 12am Friday morning, no one has been allowed to pass a perimeter being guarded by the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. The Catalan interior and health chiefs, Miquel Buch and Alba Vergés, respectively, announced that the measure would be in place for at least two weeks. In Igualada, 58 of the 319 cases in Catalonia have been identified, nearly 20% of the total.

“We have seen strong growth in that area, with a very different pattern to the one we have seen in the rest of Catalonia,” explained Vergés, who is a resident of Igualada. In less than a day, the municipality saw the number of registered cases of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections jump from 20 to 58.

On Thursday night, people who did not live in the four municipalities were given three hours to leave the area. The measures were implemented on the same day that the Catalan regional government declared it was moving to “phase 1” of its Emergency Civil Protection Plan, which includes the closure of all schools and universities.

Both Buch and Vergés called the lockdown “necessary,” and called for the collaboration of residents. “The recommendation is that there be no circulation between municipalities and among the public,” the interior chief said on Thursday. “These are measures that are being taken so that the virus does not spread further. We will reduce the outbreak if we are able to reduce the contact between people.”

Vergés struggled to maintain her composure on a number of occasions as she explained the measures, and sent a greeting to her family, who is in the lockdown area. She was tested for the Covid-19 disease several days ago, and it came back negative.

Anyone who tries to leave the confined areas could be facing charges for disobedience

The Mossos warned that anyone who tries to leave the confined areas could be facing charges for disobedience, an offense that can be punished with jail time.

The measure is the first such lockdown introduced during the current coronavirus outbreak in Spain. Among the patients registered at the Igualada hospital, there have been three deaths so far. The majority of those infected are health workers (36) and there are 250 people isolated, of whom 200 are professionals from the area hospital.

“Emanating from an index case, there was a family infection and that transmission also affected a health center,” explained the secretary of public health in the region, Joan Guix, speaking on Thursday morning ahead of the confinement.

The deaths linked to this outbreak so far include a 71-year-old woman, an 83-year-old woman and an 86-year-old man. “They were seniors with associated pathologies,” explained Guix. “We cannot define whether the cause of death was the coronavirus or whether the coronavirus has been just another incident.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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