By Julia R. Arévalo
Madrid, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- Spain will extend its nationwide lockdown and quarantine to one month and limit travel from other countries to avoid the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Sunday.
The month-long travel restriction will not affect Spaniards who want to return home, Europeans being repatriated and carriers of goods, Sánchez said at an online press conference.
The PM announced new measures to contain the pandemic in Spain, which is the third global hotspot with 28,572 infections, of which 6 percent have died and 9 percent have recovered.
Just over 12 percent of confirmed cases are health care workers, emergency coordinator Fernando Simón reported on Sunday.
Some 47 million Spaniards are into their eighth day of a 15-day quarantine with limited movement of people and extensive social distancing measures decreed by the government to control the outbreak.
The PM will ask parliament for an extension to confinement measures until 11 April and said he hoped to count with the support of other political forces.
Parliament has a plenary session scheduled for 25 March.
Simón defended the need to maintain isolation in place because “relaxing measures early would mean starting all over again.”
The coordinator admitted that the health care system will reach a moment of collapse but said that “saturation is not going to occur at the same time everywhere.”
“We have an epidemic moving at different speeds,” Simón said.
Madrid, where 6.7 million people live, is the most affected region with 9,702 cases, followed by Catalonia in the northeast (4,704) and the Basque Country in the north, with 2,097.
The collapse “may occur at some points but it will not be generalized and the extension in time will probably make it possible to control,” the emergency coordinator said.
He explained that this may involve referring patients or medical resources from one saturated region to another with a lower number of infections.
Sánchez said the armed forces would help with the decongestion of affected areas and airlift patients to hospitals in regions not operating at full capacity.
The army will also deal with the transport of medical supplies and equipment as well as key personnel between the islands and Spanish peninsula.
Before announcing these measures the PM held an online meeting with the presidents of Spain’s different autonomous regions.
Some leaders, like Catalan pro-independence head Qim Torra, called for even stricter measures such as a regional lockdown to guarantee the confinement of Catalonia.
Sánchez said that the restrictions that had been applied to date were the most drastic in Europe, where each country is adopting a different approach to combat the virus.
“This is a symmetrical crisis that has fallen like a brick on the EU as a whole,” he said.