Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Tuesday that the government could reimpose emergency measures in all or parts of the country if there are any coronavirus outbreaks that spiral out of control.
“If there is ever a time when we have a serious situation, the government could easily decree a state of alarm in part of the territory, if not in all of it,” she said in an interview on Spanish television channel Antena 3. “Hopefully we won’t have to do that. But we are categorical about protecting health. If the moment comes, the government will show responsibility.”
But soon after, government spokesperson María Jesús Montero insisted that there are “no short- or mid-term plans” to reintroduce a state of alarm in Spain again.
Spain has been experiencing several local outbreaks that are reported to be in check. If new spikes should spiral out of control in any part of the country, “existing legislation enables limits on mobility for very reduced groups and in very reduced areas,” added Montero.
However, restriction of movement in very large areas would require the government to declare another state of alarm. “There is no substitute,” said Montero. “That kind of limitation of a fundamental right cannot be done with ordinary legislation.”
The statements come after Germany reintroduced local confinement measures in areas that recently experienced coronavirus outbreaks, including one in a meatpacking plant.
The 1981 law that regulates the state of alarm, which is the lowest of three emergency states under Spain’s legal system, allows the government to declare the emergency measure “in all or in part of the national territory” in situations like the current health crisis. When a region or part of a region is solely affected by a crisis, a regional premier can ask the central government to declare a state of alarm. The emergency measure must be then passed by the Spanish Cabinet, which determines its territorial scope. The state of alarm is introduced for 15 days, after which point Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, must approve its extension.
In mid-March, the Spanish government declared a state of alarm in a bid to curb the coronavirus pandemic, and secured congressional support for several extensions. The emergency measure officially came to an end on Sunday, June 21, coinciding with the reopening of the country’s borders with all European Union and Schengen-area countries. The state of alarm is the only law that allows authorities to restrict citizen’s freedom of movement, which is key to controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
Calvo said on Tuesday that the active coronavirus outbreaks in Spain “are controlled,” and that the country is in within an “expected” situation. “I have to say that there are going to be outbreaks. What’s important is that we control them as fast as possible and that everyone with symptoms reacts quickly going to medical centers. Speed is what’s important,” she said.
The deputy prime minister added that the government acted swiftly and decisively as soon as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. “We went for the toughest measure, which was confinement, and we said that it was this way because there was no other.”
The leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, said on Tuesday that he is willing to support the government’s “new normality” decree, which will be subject a congressional vote on Thursday, if certain conditions are met.
The PP wants to create a national agency to coordinate Spain’s healthcare – which is currently devolved to the regions – as well as a specific unit for the prevention and monitoring of pandemics. Other requirements include more primary healthcare personnel, creating a unit of healthcare professionals ready for action in any part of the country requiring immediate medical support, and a follow-up plan for Covid-19 survivors.
The Spanish conservatives also want an action plan for patients with other conditions whose treatment has been delayed due to Covid-19, and greater support for online remote medical appointments to avoid burdening the hospitals.
New outbreak in Catalonia
The Catalan health department on Tuesday recorded an outbreak of the coronavirus at a senior care home in Lleida. According to the department, 18 people – 13 residents and five workers – have tested positive for Covid-19, after PCR tests were carried out on all staff and residents at the center.
The news comes after Spanish health official Fernando Simón reported on Monday that 12 coronavirus outbreaks remain active. In the region of Aragón, nearly 68,000 residents of three comarcas – administrative divisions smaller than a province – are back in Phase 2 of Spain’s deescalation plan due to fresh outbreaks of the coronavirus.
With reporting by Natalia Junquera and Carlos E. Cué.
English version by Melissa Kitson.