Spain’s national parliament will be asked to extend the lockdown until Saturday 11 April. In a televised address to the nation on the weekend, following a teleconference with regional leaders, prime minister Pedro Sánchez said the government wanted to extend the “State of Alarm” (also translated as “State of Alert”) for an additional 14 days.
The government decreed the emergency measure on 14 March, and it officially took effect at midnight that same day for 15 days until 29 March. Under the Spanish constitution, the government is required to obtain parliamentary approval for any extension. The Congress of Deputies (lower parliament) is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday (23 February).
Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition party (conservative Partido Popular) has previously indicated support for an extension, while other mainstream parties are also believed to be prepared to vote for any measures that help contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
If approved, the shutdown extension will include the Easter break (Good Friday is 10 April). Catholic brotherhoods throughout Andalucía, including Málaga, have already announced they will not hold any of the traditional street processions.
In the meantime, the Military Emergency Unit has been assisting Aena (Spain’s official airport authority) to disinfect installations, including Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat, Alicante-Elche and Málaga-Costa del Sol.
In his address on Sunday, Sánchez (leader of the centrist Socialist Party, currently governing in coalition with the far-left Podemos after the 10 November election) warned people to prepare for a worsening situation over the coming days.
“Unfortunately the number of diagnosed cases is going to rise… The worst is yet to come, and it is pushing our capabilities to the limit… and will put our (healthcare) system on the ropes… The risk is everywhere, but the damage is concentrated in a few places.” He was specifically referring to Madrid, where 60 per cent of all COVID-19 fatalities have occurred so far.
He defended the decision to declare a “State of Alarm”, saying it had “bought time” for the healthcare system to prepare for its response to the outbreak. He stressed that Spain had followed advice by international experts and been applying the recommended WHO (World Health Organisation) strategy to gain the necessary time to improve the healthcare system’s resistance and capacity, and enable science to find a vaccine.
“These seven days have changed us. We look at all life near us as being life at risk. We have changed how we view our neighbours; they no longer seen like strangers. This crisis is bringing out the best in us.”
Updated Patient Figures in Spain
According to latest official figures released at noon on Sunday, 1,753 people had died from the COVID-19 virus, while the number of infected patients totalled 28,572 – including 1,785 in intensive care. Health authorities reported that 2,575 patients had recovered and been discharged from hospital.
In a press conference on Sunday, Fernando Simón, director of the health ministry’s Coordination Centre for Health Alerts, said 12 per cent of all those affected had been health workers, and he warned that intensive care units could face even greater strain due to a rise in infections. “The critical point for the ICUs will happen two weeks after the contagion’s peak. There is going to be great pressure in some places but this collapse will not be generalised.”
He said the fatality rate in Spain was around six per cent, and 10 per cent in some areas, although he expressed the hope that this rate would drop with the advent of more testing.
The technical committee managing COVID-19 announced that Spain had purchased 640,000 fast-result tests due to arrive “in the coming days”.
Meanwhile, José Ángel González, joint operational director of the National Police, said on Sunday that 64 people had been arrested across Spain for disobeying the “State of Alarm”, with 23,000 reports of “disobedience” also having been filed.