(Updates with borders closure, number of cases, other details)
By Julia R. Arévalo
Madrid, Mar 16 (efe-epa).- As Spain became the fourth coronavirus hotspot in the world, the country on Monday announced the closure of its land borders at the stroke of midnight.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said borders will only be open to Spaniards, residents and cross-border workers until the emergency ends.
Meanwhile, 47 million Spaniards delved into the first working day under strict social distancing measures imposed by the government with resignation and discipline.
The bustling, noisy and perpetually busy capital Madrid was a shadow of its former self: almost deserted streets, closed shops – save the essential – and a significant percentage of employees working remotely, maintaining basic services and industries in a state of alarm.
Infections continue to rise in what has been a vertiginous week for the Spaniards: from 700 cases to more than 9,000 confirmed infections on Monday with almost half of them in the region of Madrid where 6.7 million people live.
Madrid has also been handed the worst tally, for the time being, when it comes to the disease’s mortality rate: 213 of the 309 who died lived in the region.
But on Monday the capital barely stirred. The subway and buses registered 25 percent of their regular footfall and traffic of private cars fell to 40 percent, according to official sources.
Fernando Simón, the spokesperson for the health authorities who is highly regarded due to his calm demeanour, trusts that the drastic measures imposed across the country will allow for the rising COVID-19 curve to be contained soon.
The disease surges by 25 percent every day, said Simón.
If distancing measures are strictly applied, “the impact is very likely to be rapid and drastic,” Simón added.
Mondays’ figures mean Spain leapfrogged South Korea in terms of confirmed cases and death toll, which is four times that of the Asian nation.
Authorities in South Korea have been praised for the way they have tackled the outbreak with widespread testing and tracing of people who had been in contact with infected persons.
In Geneva, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted on the need to increase testing, isolate patients and to trace who they had come into contact with.
“We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” Tedros told reporters at a virtual press conference on Monday.
As of Sunday, 30,000 Covid-19 tests had been conducted in Spain, but the Health Ministry said that a more streamlined diagnostic procedure was necessary and will soon be implemented.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a nationwide state of alarm on Saturday, granting the government more powers to control the movement of citizens and to seize stocks and means of production to tackle this crisis.
The country’s inhabitants were ordered to stay at home and are only allowed to leave to go to work if they can’t do it remotely, to buy medical products and food, to visit medical centres or to care for dependent family members.
People who do leave their houses must be unaccompanied.