Spain officially went into crisis on Monday. In the morning, the psychological threshold of 1,000 cases of coronavirus infection was surpassed, climbing in the afternoon to more than 1,200, almost half of them in Madrid alone. As of Monday, the infection had left 29 dead.
In the evening, after a long meeting at the Ministry of Health, the local administration of Madrid took the long-expected and drastic decision to close all schools and universities in the community for two weeks starting on Wednesday. It is a measure that will affect 1.5 million people, and which comes after the autonomous local government had already tried to mitigate the effects of a collapsing health system with the opening of 300 new positions for health personnel.
What the authorities had been saying until Monday had been aimed at avoiding exaggerating the danger while reassuring and educating people on hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the virus. The confident and calm voice of the physician Dr. Fernando Simón from Saragosa, head of the Health Emergency Coordination Centre of the Ministry of Health, was tasked by the government to deliver the latest news every day about the unstoppable spread of the contagion in the Spanish territory—without conveying any of the urgency that would lead to passing draconian measures like those that were finally taken on Monday evening.
Simón had even refrained from advising against organizing the demonstrations on March 8, which, as always, were many and got very high attendance numbers.
However, Monday brought the predictable turning point. The closure of the schools in the capital joined the decision by the local administration of the Basque Country to close all the schools in the city of Vitoria for two weeks. The two main focal points of the outbreak in Spain are the communities of Madrid and Euskadi in the Basque Country.
Just like in the rest of the world, in addition to the concern for the most at-risk people, such as the elderly suffering from respiratory diseases, the main concern of the authorities is to avoid a collapse of the health system, which everyone in Spain invariably praises with the mantra that it is “one of the best in the world.”
In Barcelona, for now only one municipal nursery school and one of the official language schools have been closed, and similar measures have been taken in other Spanish cities, but always targeting individual schools. For the moment, there are no measures comparable to those taken in Italy, although all schools and universities are waiting for decisions to be made in the coming days.
There was already an atmosphere of emergency on Monday morning, when for the first time, Pedro Sanchez himself chaired the meeting of the government task force working on the epidemic, and also made his first public remarks about the matter, announcing that a shock-treatment plan that the government had been preparing for two weeks would be unveiled any day now.
We will see whether the emergency will force the prime minister to speed up the decision-making process. In the meantime, his own Health Minister, Salvador Illa, after announcing new decisions to be taken as early as on Tuesday in a press conference late on Monday evening, admitted that “the data indicates a worsening of the evolution of the disease in Spain,” especially in certain particular areas (Madrid, Vitoria and the town of Labastida, also in Euskadi), and recommended remote work and flexibility in terms of work schedules in these locations. In addition, the Sevilla-Roma soccer match on Wednesday will also be played behind closed doors.