The Spanish government will use the declaration of a state of emergency over the coronavirus to lock down the country, ordering people to stay at home unless they need to buy food or medicine or go to work or a hospital, according to local media reports on Saturday.
The cabinet is meeting to agree the precise measures to be taken under the state of emergency, which was announced on Friday.
Its emergency powers, set out in article 116 of the constitution, allow the government to limit the movement of people and vehicles in specified places, ttemporarily requisition goods, take over factories and businesses, ration the consumption of basic items and issue the necessary orders to ensure the provision of services.
The article has not been used since 2010, when it was enacted in response to an air traffic controllers’ strike. The state of emergency will initially apply for two weeks, but can be extended with parliamentary approval.
Spanish media said the sweeping new restrictions would include a ban on people leaving their homes for all but essential reasons, and would come into force on Monday morning.
Pedro Sánchez’s government has been fiercely criticised for its delay in rolling out robust measures to fight the virus and for allowing huge rallies across the country last Sunday to mark International Women’s Day.
The national measures come after some regional governments enacted their own initiatives to try to halt the spread of the virus. All non-essential shops in the Madrid and Galicia regions have shut on the orders of their respective administrations.
The only businesses permitted to remain open are supermarkets, bakeries, butcher’s shops, fishmongers, greengrocers, petrol stations, pharmacies, tobacconists and newspaper kiosks.
Madrid’s city council also announced on Saturday that all public parks and gardens would close to prevent large concentrations of people. Seville, Granada and Córdoba cancelled their famous Holy Week celebrations.
The mayor of Seville, Juan Espadas Cejas, said it was the hardest decision he had taken in his five years in office, but added: “The declaration of the state of emergency, together with the need to safeguard public health and to allow enough time for a return to normality in the city, justify this move.”
The cancellation of the spectacular but sombre Holy Week parades, which draw huge crowds of foreign visitors, comes as tourist bookings plummet.
The Catalan president, Quim Torra, announced plans on Friday night to close off the north-eastern Spanish region and called on the central government to assist by authorising the closure of ports, airports and railways.
“The evolution of the contagion calls for most drastic action,” Torra said. “We need to restrict entry and exit to protect ourselves.”
Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, but major transport routes and hubs come under the mandate of the central government.
Spain is the country most affected by the coronavirus in Europe after Italy, and has so far confirmed 5,753 cases of the virus and 136 deaths.
Jet2, which flies from nine UK airports to destinations including Alicante, Málaga and Lanzarote, said it was cancelling all flights to mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.
The Spanish government would not comment on the reported measures, saying only: “It’s important to underline that the state-of-emergency decree that will be approved – and which is currently the subject of a cabinet meeting – is the one that the prime minister will present to the public.”