Spain declares new national state of emergency over coronavirus

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has declared an emergency. Credit: AP/Press Association Images

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has declared a second nationwide state of emergency in the hope of stemming a resurgence in coronavirus infections.

The Socialist leader told the nation in a televised address that the extraordinary measure will go into effect on Sunday.

He said the government will use the state of emergency to impose an 11pm to 6am nationwide curfew, except in the Canary Islands.

The prime minister said Spain’s 19 regional leaders will have authority to set different hours for the curfew, as long as they are stricter; close regional borders to travel, and limit gatherings to six people who do not live together.

“The reality is that Europe and Spain are immersed in a second wave of the pandemic,” Mr Sanchez said after meeting his Cabinet.

The leader added he will seek the endorsement of the Parliament to extend the state of alarm for six months until May.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Mr Sanchez’s government said on Saturday night that a majority of the country’s regional leaders had agreed to the new state of emergency and the meeting on Sunday was to study its terms.

The state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers, including the ability to temporarily restrict basic freedoms guaranteed in Spain’s constitution, such as the right to free movement.

Spain’s government has already declared two states of emergency during the pandemic.

The first was declared in March to apply a strict home confinement across the nation, close stores and recruit private industry for the national public health fight.

It was lifted in June after reining in the contagion rate and saving hospitals from collapse.

The second went into effect for two weeks in Madrid to force the capital’s reluctant regional leaders to impose travel limits on residents to slow down an outbreak in which new infections grew exponentially. It lasted until Saturday.

Residents wearing face masks walk along a near-empty street in Pamplona Credit: Alvaro Barrientos/AP

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said his agency and regional health officials have studied how to apply nightly curfews, perhaps like the 9pm ones already in place in France’s major cities.

The state of emergency makes it easier for authorities to take swift action, avoiding having to get many of the restrictions approved by a judge.

Some judges have rejected efforts to limit movement in certain regions, causing confusion among the public.

Government officials on all levels were reluctant to impose another complete home lockdown and industry shutdown, given the weakened state of Spain’s economy, which has plunged into a recession and seen its unemployment rolls skyrocket in recent months.

Spain this week became the first European country to pass one million officially recorded Covid-19 cases.

But Mr Sanchez admitted on Friday in a nationally televised address that the true figure could be more than three million due to gaps in testing and other factors.

Spain reported almost 20,000 new daily cases and 231 more fatalities on Friday, taking the country’s death toll in the pandemic to 34,752.