Spain won’t declare another national state of alarm, allows regions to lockdown if necessary

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez smiles before putting on a protective face mask at the end of a press conference after chairing a Spanish Cabinet meeting at the La Moncloa Palace, in Madrid, Spain, 25 August 2020. [EPA-EFE/ZIPI]

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez ruled out declaring another national state of alarm over the coronavirus following his first cabinet meeting after the summer vacation. Regional governments have the power to impose local measures if necessary, he said. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

On Tuesday (25 August), the socialist prime minister held his first cabinet meeting on the current coronavirus situation since returning from his summer vacation.

“The evolution of the pandemic should be a concern to everyone,” Sánchez told a press conference. “We have managed to flatten the curve in worse and more dramatic situations than this. I’m confident that we can do it again if each and everyone of us acts responsibly,” he added.

While the PM ruled out declaring a national state of alarm, the mechanism that underpinned the draconian lockdown that lasted from mid-March to June, he confirmed that regional governments had the power to request a localised version, if necessary.

He added that 2,000 members of the armed forces could be mobilised to help with regional contract-tracing systems.

Authorities in Spain’s 17 regions are currently in control of the COVID-19 response at a local level after the central government handed over the reins at the end of the state of alarm.

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Most European nations issue warnings against travelling to Spain

European nations on Tuesday upheld and strengthened advice against travel to Spain, where coronavirus infection figures have sky-rocketed since the end of the strict national confinement two months ago.

The summer season in Spain, the world’s second-most visited country last year, has been a resounding flop for a tourist sector that accounts for about 12% of the country’s annual GDP.

The sector had pinned its hopes on the success of the so-called transition to a “new normal” following three months of lockdown, which ended in June.

Spain was one of Europe’s worst-hit nations during the early weeks of the pandemic, with thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths each day at the peak between March and April.

Once again, the country is ahead of other EU member states when it comes to infections figures as it recorded nearly 40,500 COVID-19 cases in the last week, which brought the infection rate to 85.8 per 100,000 people. In hotspots like Madrid, the figure stands at roughly 200 per 100,000 in the same period.

The UK, which is the main country of origin for Spain’s tourists, maintained its advice against all travel to the country, requiring all citizens returning to Britain to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Other EU member states recommend against travel to Spain

The Netherlands updated its travel advice on Monday to place all of Spain, including the Canary Islands, on a travel warning list, a measure that obliges passengers arriving from the Spanish territory to self-quarantine. A PCR test is also recommended but not obligatory.

Neighbouring Belgium has extended its ban on all non-essential travel to several Spanish regions including Madrid, the Basque Country, the Balearic Islands and Barcelona, with returnees from other Spanish regions being urged to self-isolate for two weeks and get tested.

Germany and Austria similarly advise against all non-essential travel to Spain, but have exempted the Canary Islands, a popular tourist destination.

France recommends against travel to Catalonia and Aragon, but has no quarantine measures in place for those returning from those regions.

Spanish citizens can, therefore, still travel to France and Portugal, which border Spain to the east and west.

The Spanish and Italian health ministers spoke via telephone on Tuesday to coordinate Covid-19 containment measures.

Italy added Spain to its list of high-risk countries on 13 August, requiring anyone arriving from the country to undergo a coronavirus test. PCR testing is now available in Italy’s major international airports.

But some passengers arriving in the Italian capital Rome after 6pm found the screening centres to be closed and were directed to the drive-in testing units on offer at the city’s hospitals.

“We went with the whole family to a drive-in and there was already a line of 300 vehicles,” Rocio, who arrived in Rome on Monday evening, told EFE.

In Catalonia, officials have limited social gatherings to 10 people while in Madrid the local government has recommended people in the worst-affected neighborhoods to stay home.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Spain has registered more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases and over 28,000 related deaths.

The average age of those testing positive in recent weeks floats around the late 30s as opposed to around 60 during peak in March and April. 

[Edited by Daniel Eck and Frédéric Simon]

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