Spain grinds to a halt as Health chief tests positive for Covid-19

By Clea House

Madrid, Mar 30 (EFE).- Spain’s Health Emergencies minister, Fernando Simón, has tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said on Monday, as the country ground to a halt following a government ban on all non-essential activities to limit the mobility of citizens and avoid the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Simón, who has led daily press conferences updating the nation on the state of the spread of the disease and has become one of the most publicly recognizable faces of the pandemic, tested positive after he came down with a fever and is currently isolating at home, María José Sierra spokesperson of the Coordination Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies said.

The pandemic has caused 85,195 infections of which 5,231 patients are in intensive care units. Some 7, 340 people have died and 16,780 have recovered, a rate of around 20 percent.

“We are observing a change in the trend of the average increase in daily cases,” Sierra said.

“Since the day social distancing measures were rolled out across Spain, between 15 and 25 March, the average increase of infections was 20 percent. And from that day onwards (25 March) the average increase is 12 percent.

“We have to be very cautious with this data (…) but this is what we expected after the implementation of these important social distancing measures,” she said.

On Monday, the streets of all major Spanish cities were practically empty as services were reduced to a minimum, with both roads and public transport services operating with barely any commuters.

According to Sierra, “important additional measures of social isolation” that were announced over the weekend were necessary to lower the pressure these units are under.

“From the time one becomes infected, if that person ends up in intensive care, it may take two or three weeks for them to recover. This pressure in the next few weeks will be large.”

Non-essential activities will remain paralyzed from Monday until at least 9 April, a period in which workers can take paid leave, although they will have to make up the lost hours before 31 December.

“These are not obligatory vacation days,” Labour and Social Economy Minister Yolanda Díaz said Sunday.

“We will let each sector negotiate how it will manage the payback of the hours. These are days that must be returned.”

The measures, which were announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday and approved by an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Sunday, have triggered a wave of criticism among businesses with many claiming not enough information on which sectors would be operative was made clear until Sunday.

Spanish Minister of Transport, José Luis Ábalos, defended the strict measures on Monday, insisting it was the only way for the quarantine to be “effective” and that a gradual approach would not be efficient in slowing the spread of the virus.

The government has allowed for workers to go to work Monday to prepare for the total reduction in activities which will be fully enforced as of Tuesday.

Essential activities include healthcare work, security forces and institutions, the agri-food sector, the transport of goods and the press and communications sector.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, opticians, kiosks, energy companies, banking and legal services will also be operational.

The strict confinement measures which have been widely backed by several trade unions and some regional governments like Catalonia have been met with reluctance by others, including the Basque Country in the north.

Meanwhile, a second makeshift morgue has been set up in Madrid, after a large ice rink was used to store bodies last week.

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