CORONAVIRUS

Catalan premier calls for central government to help isolate entire region

“We believe that we have to anticipate a very fast evolution of the disease in our country,” says Quim Torra in televised address on Friday night

Catalan premier Quim Torra.
Catalan premier Quim Torra.David Zorrakino / Europa Press

The Catalan government on Friday called for the entire region to be isolated in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Speaking via a televised address, the Catalan premier, Quim Torra, called on the central government in Madrid for assistance, despite not having previously advised the Health Ministry of his intentions. The Catalan regional government does not have the powers to close borders and major infrastructure, such as airports and train stations.

The administration in the northeastern Spanish region can, however, close down bars, restaurants, cinemas, ski resorts and shopping malls, apart from those selling foodstuffs. Those steps were taken via a resolution that was made public on Friday night.

The Catalan government has also restricted the celebration of funerals, as well as visits to or residents in senior care homes

As in other parts of Spain that are struggling to contain the spread of what has now been classed as a global pandemic, the Catalan government has also restricted the celebration of funerals, as well as visits to or residents in senior care homes.

The resolution passed in Catalonia also closed “theme parks or any other center that is dedicated to leisure activities.” All of these measures went into force at midnight Friday night.

“The progress of the infections requires us to act more drastically,” stated the Catalan premier. “We believe that we have to anticipate a very fast evolution of the disease in our country and that is why we believe we have to lock down the whole of Catalonia. This is about restricting entries and exits in the whole country. We believe that a step forward is needed.” Torra, who is a hardline supporter of Catalan independence, was making a gesture toward the supporters of secession with his statement.

Torra called for the assistance of the central government to “limit access points” in the infrastructure that is not under the control of the Catalan government, such as the borders with France, ports, airports and rail links.

Torra said in his address that he had turned to the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, for authorization to make these closures at Catalans major transport hubs. “We have not yet received a response,” he said, calling on the Socialist Party (PSOE) politician to make an effort to isolate Catalonia. “The state must accompany us and stop entries via ports, airports and rail, and that is what we have conveyed to him. We are awaiting a response to put the confinement into action.” He added a request to citizens, calling for them “not to make any journey that is avoidable. It’s an essential effort to win the battle and stop [the coronavirus]. We have to put the brakes on and avoid contact.”

Catalonia saw a rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections from 300 to 509 on Friday

Catalonia saw a rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections from 300 to 509 on Friday. According to the daily update from the Health Ministry, Catalonia went from no coronavirus patients in intensive care to 25 in just 24 hours. It is these patients who are most concerning for the heads of the health system, given that intensive care is the bottleneck that could see Spain’s hospitals overwhelmed as the pandemic spreads yet further.

Sources from the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, explained yesterday that they are ready to isolate the region, but added that they would not do anything until they receive orders from the central government in Madrid, and that they will not act “unilaterally.”

The announcement from Torra came six days after Lombardia in Italy was locked down, although in that case it was the central Italian government that implemented the measure, which was later rolled out to the rest of the country.

The Catalan government on Thursday night isolated around 70,000 people in the city of Igualada and three nearby municipalities, after a major outbreak of coronavirus affecting an area hospital was detected, with three deaths.

The announcement from the Catalan regional government came shortly after Prime Minister Sánchez announced that Spain would enter a state of alarm for just the second time since the country returned to democracy at the end of the 1970s. The Cabinet is due to approve the measure later on Saturday.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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