CORONAVIRUS

Spanish government considering nationwide state of alarm to implement a curfew

Health Minister Salvador Illa today confirmed the possibility was being studied, but stressed it would require the support of the regions and opposition parties such as the PP

Health MInister Salvador Illa during Tuesday's press conference.
Health MInister Salvador Illa during Tuesday's press conference.Andrea Comas / EL PAÍS

The Spanish government is considering introducing a nighttime curfew across the whole of the country, in a bid to bring down coronavirus infections. The executive believes, however, that it would need to do so under a state of alarm given that there is no other option that would give it the legal framework to limit a fundamental right such as that of movement in this way.

The possibility was confirmed on Tuesday by Health Minister Salvador Illa of the Socialist Party (PSOE), who pointed to the fact that other European countries are considering curfews. The political discussion on such a restriction has arrived today, however, because the Madrid regional government – which is headed by the conservative Popular Party (PP) in coalition with Ciudadanos (Citizens), and propped up by far-right Vox – made clear this morning that it is open to a curfew for the region, which once again has been particularly badly hit by the pandemic during this second wave.

Sources from the central government said today that it would not go ahead with a country-wide curfew if there is not an agreement to do so among all of Spain’s regions – some of which, like Madrid, are led by the PP. For his part, Illa today stated before reporters that such a move would not be imminent, but is being studied.

People at Madrid's Casa de Campo on day one of the confinement imposed over a week ago, and which is due to expire on Saturday.
People at Madrid's Casa de Campo on day one of the confinement imposed over a week ago, and which is due to expire on Saturday.Olmo Calvo

“It’s important to know if the PP would be willing to give its support to this,” Illa said in reference to a state of alarm and curfew, speaking at a press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting. “A decision has not been made. It is being evaluated and studied. If it is made, it will be very important to know the political position of the PP.” The minister added that he had not had any discussions with the party about the issue.

Illa once again warned that “very tough weeks are coming,” with regard to the pandemic in Spain, and called for fresh support from other parties. “If this is where we are going,” he said, in reference to a curfew, “we need a state of alarm and I want to know who is willing to support me.”

Article 116 of the Spanish Constitution describes three legal categories for emergency situations: state of alarm, state of emergency and state of siege (in Spanish: estado de alarma, estado de excepción and estado de sitio). It is the first situation that was implemented by the Spanish government at the outset of the health crisis in March, paving the way for one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world.

The government can implement a state of alarm – as it did in the spring, and as it did earlier this month in the Madrid region – but it needs the support of Spain’s lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, if it is to extend it. In March, the government – a center-left coalition headed by the Socialist Party, with junior partner Unidas Podemos – found support from the opposition for a state of alarm. But this backing ebbed away as the crisis deepened, and the emergency situation was eventually lifted in June when it became clear the executive – which lacks a working majority in Congress – would not have the support it needed to prolong it further.

Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the Popular Party.
Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the Popular Party.HANDOUT / AFP

The political challenges that face the government in terms of a curfew are similar. The Madrid regional government has said it is open to a curfew, but it does not want a state of alarm. The government believes that this is not possible. One option is to request that all citizens remain at home from midnight to 6am, but an actual curfew, where the police have powers to enforce the rules, would necessitate a state of alarm, government sources insist.

Illa also confirmed on Tuesday that the central government would not renew the state of alarm in Madrid, which is due to expire on Saturday. The central government is still unaware of what exactly the PP-led regional administration in Madrid will do this weekend in a bid to contain this second wave of the coronavirus. This morning, the region’s health chief floated the option of a curfew, or returning to a previous raft of measures that confined residents of 45 basic healthcare areas – administrative divisions that contain one or more healthcare centers.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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