MADRID: Spain on Sunday (Mar 15) reported about 2,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 100 deaths over the last 24 hours, the latest spike in Europe’s second-most affected country after Italy.
The new figures raise Spain’s number of COVID-19 infections to 7,753 – and its death toll to 288 – after the government imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown, banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.
Spaniards hunkered down in silent cities with children’s playgrounds blocked off with police tape, after the government imposed sudden, severe restrictions on public life.
Spain, the second-worst affected European country after Italy, on Saturday ordered its 47 million citizens to stay indoors except for necessary outings such as buying food and medicine. Social gatherings are banned.
Among the high-profile figures to test positive were the prime minister’s wife, two Cabinet ministers and five players on top-flight soccer club Valencia.
The sudden Spanish lockdown, along with similarly abrupt moves to curtail public life in France, have astonished Western Europe this weekend, as countries follow Italy in imposing restrictions unseen in peacetime.
Public places from city streets to beaches across Spain were deserted, with a strengthened presence of police, many wearing latex gloves and facemasks, ensuring people complied with the emergency measures.
All that could be heard on the empty streets of Madrid was the sound of families behind shuttered windows. People played video games, watched TV and sat out on balconies.
All major newspapers carried a wrapper emblazoned with a government-promoted slogan “Together we’ll stop this virus”. Newspapers reported that police could issue on-the-spot fines of hundreds of euros for those who fail to follow the rules.
Bars, restaurants and shops selling non-essential items are shut for 15 days as the country enters a state of emergency. Schools are shut, keeping millions of children at home.
In a further blow to Spain’s economically vital tourist industry, Easter processions that typically draw huge crowds have been cancelled.
Britain on Sunday advised its citizens against all but essential travel to Spain. Around 4,400 inbound flights to Spain have been cancelled for the second half of March, the Spanish airlines association said on Thursday.
“I hope it ends soon so I can go back to work,” said 22-year-old airport worker Fabricio, who declined to give his surname, waiting to make a money transfer in central Madrid.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday the emergency measures would have a major impact on citizens and businesses, but promised the government would work to lessen the blow.
Spain, where more than half of jobs are dependent on small or medium-sized companies, already has one of the developed world’s highest unemployment rates.
“This city depends on tourism – what with all the bars and restaurants and shops – this is really going to economically damage many businesses,” said 52-year-old Leonel Sanchez, out to buy food on Madrid’s main thoroughfare, Gran Via.