The first case of COVID-19 in Spain was confirmed on January 31st in La Gomera, Canary Islands. Posterior genetic testing suggests that the virus was circulating in Spain via multiple sources – infected individuals from other countries – in February. On March 10th all direct flights from Italy were cancelled and, two days later, from Morocco. Spanish frontiers closed on the 16th, authorizing only the entry of Spanish citizens or residents. The state of alarm and a national lockdown (quarantine) were declared on March 14th, citing the country’s need for the “management of the health crisis situation caused by COVID-19”, as established in the Official State Gazette. This declaration affects the whole national territory and, originally, was set to last fifteen natural days. However, four extensions have been passed in Parliament, the last one (as of May 7th) lasting until May 24th.
Due to the decentralized nature of the Spanish political and administrative configuration, regional governments (Autonomous Communities) implemented the first restricting measures. The Basque Country declared public health emergency on March 13th, Murcia confined 500,000 people along its coast, Extremadura put its region of Arroyo de la luz on lockdown, and Madrid decided to close bars and terraces, schools, and universities, on March 9th. Multiple heads of regional governments, such as Catalonia’s or the Balearic Islands’, asked the Spanish Prime Minister to take action to deal with COVID-19 by closing airports and other routes of possible infection.
The declaration of the state of alarm limited the freedom of movement: citizens could only move, and if so, individually, for activities that were considered basic necessities, such as grocery shopping, using healthcare services, going to work, assistance to elders and other dependents, going to banks or for reasons of force majeure. Schools and universities, as well as any other educational activities, were closed and teaching was moved online. In addition, all shops and commercial activities were shut down – except, again, for the ones covering basic necessities; as were all museums, archives, libraries, hotels, monuments and entertainment gatherings, including sport events. Restaurants could only provide food deliveries and had to remain otherwise closed, and religious activities were restricted. The Spanish Parliament, the Cortes Generales, suspended their activity for 15 days starting March 12th, and the Ministry of Domestic Affairs ordered the lockdown of 69 jails. Important Spanish folkloric events, such as Seville’s April Fair and the Holy Week festivities, were cancelled.
On March 17th, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez announced a support package of more than 200 billion euros, that is, the equivalent of 20% of Spanish GDP, directed towards softening the impact of the crisis. This package has been divided between measures such as a moratorium on the payment of mortgages, the easing of social security contributions, the streamlining of temporary dismissal files (ERTEs), loans for the guarantee of small and medium companies’ liquidity and funding for scientific research on COVID-19 on the hopes of creating a vaccine. Furthermore, on March 28th, the Spanish government banned all non-essential activity until the of April 13th, and affected workers were given paid recoverable leave. After the amount of infected and deaths started to decrease, workers from some non-essential sectors that could not carry out their work remotely went back to work. Currently, online work is still being recommended.
In regard to healthcare, although citizens are not obliged to wear face masks, they are encouraged to do so. The Ministry of Health announced that it had purchased 540,000 tests on the March 21stand reported that at least 350,000 tests had been conducted. Nevertheless, these kits turned out to be only 30% accurate and thus stopped being used. By the March 23rd, more than 5,400 medical workers had tested positive and been sent home due to the lack of protective gear. Some professionals have had to make their own improvised suits. The quality of healthcare in Spain had decreased after the 2008 financial crisis: healthcare spending was capped to 5.9% of Spanish GDP, compared to an average of 7.4% in Europe. As a result, privatizations have led the COVID-19 crisis to neglect the care of the old and sick in for-profit nursing homes, where elders have been disproportionately affected. Despite these limitations, positive measures have been taken: 10,000 Czech protective medical suits and 90 respirators were sent in the March 29th, and a huge infrastructure that usually holds fairs and events in Madrid, IFEMA, was repurposed to host COVID-19 patients – now dismantled as that the peak of the crisis has passed. Currently, a serological test is being distributed to detect antibodies within the Spanish population and estimate the extent of the crisis.
The first de-escalation measure taken by the state was allowing children up to 14 years old to go out for walks between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. accompanied by a parent starting April 26th. On April 28th, the Spanish Prime Minister announced the full de-escalation plan: the Transition Towards the New Normality. This plan is gradual, asymmetrical (according to regions) and coordinated: each province’s evolution will be assessed every two weeks, after which each territory will either be allowed or banned from going into the next phase. Mobility between provinces and islands will not be allowed until all the phases of the plan have been completed. The phases look as follow:
Phase 0 beginning May 4th
• Reopening small businesses such as restaurants which can open for takeaway and places that take bookings (bookstores, hairdressers, etc.).
• Individual classes and training for federated sports players.
Phase 1 beginning May 11th at the earliest
• Partial reopening of other small businesses under strict safety measures, not yet shopping malls.
• Opening of hotels, cafés and restaurants in their outdoor sections at30% capacity.
• Mobility within the province – visit friends and family in small gatherings.
• Religious sites open.
• Hostelry establishments open their dining areas at 30% capacity.
• Schools offer a guarantee for children to attend if parents have to go to work.
• Schools open for students to complete their university exam entrance processes.
• Easing of restrictions for sport players.
• Cultural events possible with < 50 people in interior spaces, < 400 and seated for the exterior.
• Cinemas and theaters open at 30% capacity.
• Cinemas and theaters open at 50% capacity.
• General mobility will be relaxed but masks on public transport will still be recommended.
• Capacity of stores and other public-facing businesses still limited up to 50%.
Thus, if the evolution of the epidemic remains under control, by the end of June all provinces will have reached the end of the de-escalation process, although it looks like the most populated areas, such as Madrid and Barcelona, will take longer to achieve each phase.
Written by Cecilia Cavero Sánchez, May 2020.