MADRID - Spain is suffering Europe’s worst coronavirus contagion after Italy, according to government officials who have declared a “state of alarm” to implement the type of emergency measures instituted in Italy, forcing people to stay indoors even at the risk of economic paralysis.
According to Spanish health authorities, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose past 9,000 on Monday, increasing at a rate of 35% over the weekend when the government issued quarantine orders for all of Spain.
In Italy, confirmed coronavirus cases by Monday had exceeded 24,000, second only to China where the infection began. The government there has been criticized for not instituting emergency measures earlier than it did.
“By applying nationwide measures early on we hope to get above the contagion curve,” said Madrid Community Vice President Ignacio Aguado, who administers health programs in Spain’s capital where about half of Spain’s coronavirus cases are concentrated.
He says the number of fatalities has been reduced through stepped-up testing and emergency care throughout the country, including the requisitioning of private hospitals and mobilizing of military medical teams. Fewer than 350 people were reported to have died in Spain as of Monday, compared to more than 1,800 in Italy.
But the measures are expected to take a heavy toll on the economy.
“Calculations of the economic impact are of major proportion” said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez when he announced the state of emergency on Saturday. As in other countries, the Madrid stock market has seen share values decline by about one-third.
Tourism - a major source of income which has helped to cushion Spain from previous economic crises – has suffered the heaviest blow as beaches, scenic town centers and all forms of outside entertainment have been declared off limits or banned.
During the weekend, police vans and drones armed with loudspeakers warned citizens to stay away from beachside promenades and boulevards, while tourists crowded into airports to await repatriation to their respective countries.
The city of Seville is being forced to cancel its annual holy week processions, famous bull fights and horse fairs at a cost of about $500 million – a sum that some fear could bankrupt the southern region of Andalucia.
Union and business leaders say they fear massive unemployment if the crisis drags on for months.
Public health officials in Madrid predict that that the epidemic will not peak until April.
Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez Almeida has blamed the rapid propagation of the virus in Spain’s capital on a March 8 Women’s Day march led by government ministers. City officials had called for the march to be canceled in view of the growing health emergency.
The wives of Sanchez and of Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias were found to be infected with the virus after participating the march.
The entire leadership of the far right VOX party also went into quarantine last week following a rally in the Madrid suburb of Vista Alegre.
At a press conference Sunday night, the ministers of interior, defense, sanitation and transport — who make up a newly formed emergency cabinet — announced plans to reduce road transport throughout Spain by 85%.
Their declaration followed complaints from local authorities in eastern and southern coastal regions that Madrid residents were coming to serve their quarantines at their vacation homes.
Protesting neighbors gathered outside the villa of former prime minister Jose Maria Azanar when he arrived from Madrid at the southern resort of Marbella with his family.