CORONAVIRUS

Spanish health minister announces closure of nightclubs, bars in bid to slow coronavirus spread

Salvador Illa detailed a raft of measures that were agreed at a meeting with regional health officials, including a ban on smoking in public when safe distancing cannot be observed

Health Minister Salvador Illa at Friday's press conference.
Health Minister Salvador Illa at Friday's press conference.Chema Moya / EFE

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa announced on Friday that the government is closing nightclubs and nighttime bars across Spain in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He also explained that all establishments, such as restaurants, would have to close at 1am, with no new patrons allowed to enter from midnight onward.

“There has been a growing number of outbreaks in recent weeks,” the minister explained at a press conference on Friday morning. “I am announcing that, for the first time, we have decided to adopt coordinated actions in terms of public health and that these measures have been adopted unanimously.”

The Health Minister also announced a blanket ban across Spain on smoking in public if a two-meter distance cannot be observed

Illa was speaking to journalists after having held an emergency meeting with health officials from Spain’s regions, which have been in charge of their own coronavirus measures since the state of alarm implemented by the central government back in March came to an end.

Today’s announcement comes after the latest figures released by the Health Ministry on Thursday showed a worsening situation. Spain’s regions reported a total of 2,953 new coronavirus infections detected in the last 24 hours on Thursday, and added a total of 7,550 confirmed cases from previous dates. Not since the worst moments of the crisis in Spain, back in April, have infection rates been so high.

Illa also said that bars and restaurants would need to guarantee a minimum safe distance of 1.5 meters between patrons at the bar and when they are eating at a table. The maximum number of diners will be limited to 10.

Illa also announced that new residents entering senior care homes would be subject to PCR tests to detect coronavirus infections, as would staff from such residences returning from their vacations. Visits to homes will also be limited to one person per resident with a maximum of one hour. This measure will be relaxed, Illa explained, in the case of patients “who are nearing the end of their lives.”

The measures were, the minister added, “a minimum, not a maximum. The regions can take more restrictive measures,” he said.

The minister also said that fines would be levied “in a strict manner” on youngsters who are found to be drinking on the street, a practice known in Spain as a botellón. “Let there be no doubt,” he said. “Drinking in the street is prohibited, you are not allowed to drink in the street.”

There has been a growing number of outbreaks in recent weeks
Health Minister Salvador Illa

Another measure announced by Illa on Friday was a blanket ban across Spain on smoking in public if a two-meter distance cannot be observed. The regions of Galicia and the Canary Islands had already introduced such a measure.

Illa also recommended that citizens limit their social contact as much as possible, and limit meetings to 10 people, avoiding those from outside the household. But, the minister added, “the situation is not comparable with the one that we had in April,” explaining that the cases being detected are mostly mild and are occurring among younger people and are being caught earlier. “That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned,” he continued.

As for the start of the school year in September, and what will be the return to the classroom for most students for the first time since March, Illa pointed out that this was in the hands of each region, given that education is devolved in Spain. “There have been a number of regional ministers who have expressed their desire to share the measures that they are taking,” he said with regard to this morning’s meeting, adding that the ministry had produced a guide with steps that should be taken and that the government had provided €2 billion of extra funding to the regions.

The Madrid regional government announced that it would begin free random testing in areas that are being hardest hit by the coronavirus

Also on Friday, the Madrid regional government announced that it would begin free random testing in areas that are being hardest hit by the coronavirus, such as the districts of Carabanchel, Usera, Villaverde and Puente de Vallecas, and the municipalities of Alcobendas and Móstoles.

The region has been the epicenter of the health crisis in Spain, and for the last month there has been a steady rise in positive cases and hospitalizations due to Covid-19. The aim of the testing drive is to detect asymptomatic cases who could be spreading the virus without knowing it. People aged between 15 and 49 will be contacted randomly by SMS text messages offering them a PCR test. The regional government is aiming to carry out around a thousand tests a day, in primary healthcare centers, and provide the results within 48 hours.

With reporting by Emilio de Benito.

English version by Simon Hunter.