Coronavirus: Spain mulls national emergency as new restrictions take effect

New coronavirus restrictions were to take effect in Madrid on Saturday as the Spanish government weighed declaring a national state of emergency to allow curfews to be imposed.

Just days after Spain registered more than one million virus cases, the regions -- responsible for managing public healthcare -- have heaped pressure on the government to give them legal right to impose tighter restrictions.

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In practice, that would involve the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declaring a national state of emergency which would enable the regions to impose a curfew -- a measure increasingly applied across Europe.

So far, nine of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions have formally requested such a measure, with the government expected to decide at an extraordinary meeting on Sunday.

Although the government can impose an emergency for up to a fortnight, it would need parliamentary approval to extend it.

Spain used the powers in spring to enforce one of the world’s tightest lockdowns, and a similar measure has been in force in Madrid for the past fortnight -- although only to impose movement restrictions on the capital and various nearby towns.

A healthcare worker in protective suit attends a COVID-19 patient at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Ramon y Cajal Hospital in Madrid on October 15, 2020. (AFP)

A healthcare worker in protective suit attends a COVID-19 patient at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Ramon y Cajal Hospital in Madrid on October 15, 2020. (AFP)

That measure draws to a close at 4:47 pm (1447 GMT) on Saturday when new restrictions drawn up by the regional authorities will come into force.

Central to the new rules is a ban on all gatherings, in public and private, of people who don’t live in the same household between midnight and 6:00 am.

Bars and restaurants must now close at midnight, compared with 11:00 pm under the state of emergency, and their indoor seating capacity will remain fixed at 50 percent.

Elsewhere, the Castilla and Leon region announced its own curfew without waiting for a government declaration, banning movement between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am, with similar measures planned in the eastern region of Valencia and the southern city of Granada.

On Wednesday, Spain became the sixth country in the world to pass a million confirmed cases and the first within the European Union, although on Friday Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the “real number” was more than three times higher.

The latest figures show the virus has claimed nearly 35,000 lives in Spain and infected 1,046,132 people, although antibody tests suggest a figure of more than three million.

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Last Update: Sunday, 25 October 2020 KSA 19:25 - GMT 16:25
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