Spain’s national government and Madrid regional authorities have agreed to shut all schools and universities in the country’s capital beginning Wednesday as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus after the number of cases almost doubled overnight.
Authorities are responding to a worrying acceleration of cases, which jumped to 1,204 on Monday from 589 on Sunday, with the outbreak focused on Madrid and the Basque country, an industrial hub.
“We have agreed to suspend of classes from age zero to universities,” Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said, referring to the Madrid region and two cities in the Basque Country. The government also recommended that companies there organise remote working for their employees and flexible working hours, Illa said after a meeting with regional governments.
The Health Ministry and Madrid’s regional government earlier Monday met seeking to get to the bottom of why there’s been a sudden spike in cases, and a government official said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was aiming to present a package of measures at a cabinet meeting Tuesday.
In Madrid alone, the number of confirmed cases rose dramatically by about 200 over the course of 24 hours: 28 people have died, compared to 8 deaths reported Sunday.
“We want the plan to be efficient and adjusted to the magnitude of the problem,” Sanchez said at an event in Madrid. “The existing information suggests that in our country the crisis will have a negative impact, just as it will in the international arena.”
Spain hasn’t yet gone the way of Italy, located a short flight across the Mediterranean, but the immediate question is whether the situation will spiral and force a similar lockdown. Spain’s economy, while far more vibrant than Italy’s, is also heavily dependent on the visits of foreign tourists.
The city of Vitoria in the north of the country has already ordered a shutdown of all schools for 15 days to try to contain the infection. Italy last week closed down all schools and imposed travel restrictions in the north of the country. Over the weekend its government essentially placed almost 17 million people in its industrial heartland under quarantine.
Those efforts have struggled to take hold and may well inform how Spain will tackle its own rapidly evolving health crisis. The rapid spread of the virus that originated in China, combined with Saudi Arabia’s oil price war, has trigged a dramatic day in financial markets. European stocks tumbled the most since 2016 as trading volumes surged.
Spain’s economy is particularly vulnerable to disruption caused by measures to contain the virus – tourism accounts for 15 per cent of output and 2.8 million jobs, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, a lobby group.
The country is finally enjoying a degree of political stability, after two elections in the space of a year, under a tenuously stitched-together coalition led by Sanchez, a socialist.