20 Mar 2020
Spain is now the second European country to impose a nationwide “shutdown” after more than 2000 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, and the number of deaths doubled. Spain has the second most cases in Europe after Italy, the fourth highest number worldwide, with more than 11,000 infections and nearly 500 deaths.
Fernando Grande Marlaska Spain’s Interior Minister announced, that the country would be shutting down to slow the spread of the virus.
“Until the declaration of the state of emergency is concluded, only Spanish citizens, residents in Spain, cross-border workers and those who prove a situation of extreme poverty will be allowed to enter national territory by land."
As the European Union prepares to vote on a proposal to shut all external borders and impose a 30-day continent-wide foreign travel ban, Portugal’s already suspended all passenger air and rail traffic with neighboring Spain until April 15. At the border checkpoint, Spain is only allowing Spaniards, residents, cross-border workers and diplomats to enter the country. However, only ID is requested at the border; with no evidence of checks for a fever being conducted.
This also comes as the Spanish Government announced it is to take command of the private healthcare sector – this means the Government can take over a private clinic or hospital to allow for patients with coronavirus if the public sector becomes overwhelmed. They will take these steps no matter If a person has private insurance that covers that clinic/hospital or whether the patient has money to pay for it. Private clinics and hospitals during this time and until this is over, will basically work as If they were part of the public national healthcare. Over the weekend, the Spanish residents came out in solidarity on their terraces to cheer local medical workers as they prepared to shut down the country.
The Government has announced a moratorium on mortgage payments and guarantee that basic services, such as water gas and electricity will not be shut off for non-payment during the crisis. It is not clear however, whether those struggling to meet their bills will be presented with a huge back-payment when the temporary measures have been lifted. As it is still too early to tell, many are concerned and are looking to country leaders for definitive answers.
One weekend after National Women’s Day,’ where 10’s of thousands marched in the streets of Madrid, the streets became eerily empty.
The Government decreed state of emergency goes beyond that of natural disasters. It gives the central Government extraordinary powers – taking control of Police, Health facilities, and both public and private initiatives. Across Spain residents are confined to their homes with a few exceptions such as travelling to their place of work, necessary food purchasing, trips to the pharmacy, caring for elderly family members and walking the dog.
The wife of Prime Minister Sanchez has tested positive, along with the wife of Pablo Inglesias, one of the three Vice Presidents of the country and member of Podemos, a socialist party of the coalition Government. The president of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso has also tested positive and is in Quarantine. It was noted that these women had all attended the feminist march in Madrid on March 8th, but it is unknown whether the cases are related.
With so many leaders testing positive an ongoing and urgent cabinet meeting has been formed to determine the economic/fiscal measures that will be taken, focusing on the ways in which families and businesses will be supported. The meeting is taking place remotely to protect the cabinet ministers. The head of Vox, the extreme right-wing party along with his deputy also attended the huge gathering. Vox party is anti-immigration and have voiced their concerns over mass infections and the threat of epidemics due to migrations. Now both are infected following a trip to Washington State. The Vox party won 50 seats in Parliament at the last elections.
The main concern now for all residents of Spain is, what next? How will the Government help the people of Spain who’s lives have been shut down? People in their thousands have already been laid off, even fired from their jobs and don’t know how they are going to pay their mortgages, rent and bills. The announcement of the moratorium still has to go through a whole round of measures that they need to agree upon before it reaches the people.
Spain has a coalition Government, and this will prove to be their first enormous test of unity. Podemos is to the left and are pressing hard for a more generous package for working people, especially when looking back over the 2008 financial crisis and how banks were bailed out - but people were not. It is a time Spain has only just begun to recover from, placing the vulnerable at even greater risk; an ever-increasing demographic that can be seen across all countries of the world today. With a second highly troubling demographic of unemployment racing ahead at unprecedented speed.
Sadly, lower income Spaniards have been hit the hardest by this crisis so far. Most are living paycheck to paycheck and are barely scraping by each month. if this pandemic doesn’t end relatively soon, it won’t be very long before millions are hurting financially.
The Four Ministries in charge of handling the crisis in Spain.
The Health Ministry – Responsible for appropriating private facilities and resources.
The Interior Ministry - Similar to Homeland Security and the FBI of the United States. They are now controlling all Police Forces including autonomous regional Police forces in the Basque country and Catalunya.
The Defense Ministry – Placing Military installations and personnel at the disposal of the Central Government.
The Transportation Ministry – Handles public transportation and decides how much continues to run. Also, highways and roads that have to be managed as well.