Spain’s virus cases shoot up by 1,500 in one day, amid reports of lockdown plan

As total number of sick nears 6,000, Madrid expected to announce a two-week state of emergency, movement restrictions in effort to contain rapid spread of pathogen

People walk in the Ramblas of Barcelona on March 13, 2020 (Josep LAGO / AFP)
People walk in the Ramblas of Barcelona on March 13, 2020 (Josep LAGO / AFP)

MADRID — Spain’s government is expected to announce Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movement for the nation of 46 million people while declaring a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections, according to local reports

Spain confirmed more than 1,500 new cases of coronavirus between Friday and Saturday, raising its total to 5,753 cases, the second-highest number in Europe after Italy. The virus has so far killed 136 people in Spain.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was due to speak at a cabinet meeting later Saturday.

On Friday, media reports said the government would adopt a series of extraordinary measures in order “to mobilize all the resources of state to better protect the health of all of its citizens.”

A man wearing a protective face mask walks on Arenal Street in central Madrid on March 14, 2020 (JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

The number of cases in Spain has increased tenfold since Sunday, and bars, restaurants and all sporting and cultural institutions have been closed.

The Madrid region, which is the country’s worst-hit with nearly 3,000 cases, has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Sánchez acknowledged on Friday that the number of infections could reach 10,000 in the coming days.

Spain has followed Italy’s path in implementing a similar lockdown after both European countries failed to contain the virus in regional hotspots.

Passengers wearing masks line up as they wait to check in at Barcelona airport, Spain, Saturday, March 14, 2020. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

Italy extended the strict restriction on movement from the north to the entire country on March 9 when it registered over 9,000 infections. It then went further on March 11 and closed all retail outlets except some supermarkets and pharmacies.

Already in Spain, residents in Madrid and northeast Catalonia awoke Saturday to shuttered bars and restaurants and other non-essential commercial outlets as ordered by regional authorities the day before.

The normally bustling streets of Spain’s two biggest cities were noticeably quieter as the message sinks in that social distancing is the only way to stop the global pandemic after its eruption in China.

Spooked shoppers packed some supermarkets early in the morning despite calls for calm from authorities and supermarket owners.

In the capital, however, the town hall was forced to close parks after many people continued their Saturday morning jogs and other outdoor pastimes.

Authorities and public health care workers, as well as television and radio news anchors, are making pleas for people to stay at home in order to reduce the spiking contagion curve.

A street cartoonist waits for customers at the usually overcrowded Plaza Mayor in central Madrid on March 14, 2020 after regional authorities ordered all shops in the region be shuttered through March 26, save for those selling food, chemists and petrol stations, in order to slow the coronavirus spread. (JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Authorities in parts of southern Spain have also blocked access to coastal areas in an attempt to stop people who had taken advantage of the closing of schools this week and “work from home” options to take impromptu beach trips.

A state of emergency allows the central government to limit free movement, legally confiscate goods and take over control of industries and private facilities, including private hospitals. It’s only the second time that the government has evoked it since the return of democracy in the late 1970s. The other was declared during a 2010 air traffic controllers’ strike.

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