By Julia R Arévalo
Madrid, Mar 14 (efe-epa).- Spain’s 47 million people prepared Saturday for the total closure of the country and confinement at home, announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as the main measure to contain COVID-19.
Sanchez’s government decided to limit with immediate effect the movement of people for 15 days to what is absolutely necessary: to buy food, medicine and other essential goods, to take care of the elderly or go to the hospital or the bank.
And people can only move about individually, with the exception of disabled persons who require assistance.
The country is shielding itself against an epidemic that in less than a week has seen cases multiply by 10, making Spain the fifth country with the most COVID-19 cases in the world, behind China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
According to the latest official data, there were over 6,250 infected Saturday – over 2,000 more than Friday – and 193 deaths due to COVID-19, with some 500 people discharged from hospitals.
Almost half of the cases were reported in Madrid and its autonomous region, which is home to 6.7 million people.
The other two most affected regions are Catalonia in the northeast and the Basque Country in the north. Both have the most-populated cities after Madrid.
While the police will be responsible for enforcing compliance with the emergency regulations, Spain’s armed forces stand ready to assist in that task if needed.
The various municipal and regional law enforcement agencies have been placed under the command of the National Police.
The decree also amounts to a suspension of the authority of the governments of Spain’s autonomous regions over matters to do with health and public safety.
All health facilities in the country, including private clinics and military hospitals, will be enlisted in the effort against the coronavirus. Companies that make medication, equipment and other healthcare items will be subject to requisition from the government.
Several of the autonomous regions, including Catalonia, decided earlier to isolate themselves from the rest of the country.
But while Sanchez did not impose restrictions on movement between regions, he ordered a 50-percent reduction in long-distance travel via road, air, sea or rail.
Villagers in coastal areas such as Catalonia, Valencia or Murcia, on the Mediterranean, have seen with concern how many people from Madrid were moving to their second homes to try and escape the emergency, ignoring the advice of health authorities.
The measures which will be rolled out across all of Spain were already being felt today in the Madrid region: shops, leisure and cultural centres, restaurants, bars and parks were all closed.
Police were forced to deploy drones to admonish residents who defied the instructions to remain at home.
There were long queues in front of food, tobacco and drugstores, which will remain open due to the recurring fear of shortages.
The weather, mild and sunny this week, will facilitate the general isolation as winter temperatures are expected to return throughout the country.
“We have very difficult weeks of effort and sacrifice ahead,” Sanchez said.