Spain, on Lockdown, Weighs Liberties Against Containing Coronavirus


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Spain, on Lockdown, Weighs Liberties Against Containing Coronavirus
Empty streets. Shuttered stores. Spain has joined the number of countries struggling to balance public health with freedoms especially prized in a relatively young democracy.

Police officers were stationed near the beach in Barcelona on Sunday to tell locals to head back home.

Police officers were stationed near the beach in Barcelona on Sunday to tell locals to head
back home.Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

The New York Times
March 15, 2020

MADRID — The scene is becoming all too familiar, and now it has gripped Spain: Streets are empty, shops are shuttered, families are cloistered at home and the numbers of those infected with the coronavirus, and those who have died, are growing.

Spain — like Italy and France to varying degrees — is now on lockdown, struggling to contain a virus that already seems out of control, with about 8,000 people infected and almost 300 dead. In the center of Madrid, police patrolled the streets, with few cars passing along its main artery, the Castellana. In Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter was empty, and private security kept anyone from entering the cathedral.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said he was imposing drastic measures to fight the coronavirus, forcing people to stay indoors, with exemptions only for so-called exceptional circumstances.

“The situation is no joke,” said Sergio González, 26, as he walked his dog in Barcelona, a mask covering his face.

Spain’s 47 million citizens had another concern, too, one that has echoed across the West: how to balance democratic values and practices while trying to change people’s behavior to safeguard their health.

That debate, which has surfaced in countries from Israel to France, has special resonance for the Spanish, after a transition to democracy only in the late 1970s. It has also exasperated tensions between the central government, which is imposing strict measures of social control, and some regional governments that have long bristled at Madrid’s interference in their affairs.

In Barcelona on Sunday, most people seemed to be heeding government warnings about the coronavirus.

In Barcelona on Sunday, most people seemed to be heeding government warnings about
the coronavirus. Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

For the Spanish, the coronavirus has also highlighted their fractured political scene. A left-wing minority government came to power promising to curtail the authority of the police to control public gatherings — which increased under a 2015 law introduced by a previous, conservative administration — only to step up police powers.

“The majority of the Spanish population wants to overcome this virus as soon as possible, so I’m convinced the majority will comply” with the stay-at-home rules, said Prime Minister Sánchez when he declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

For the moment, at least, it looked like Spaniards had accepted the limits on civil liberties in order to defeat the coronavirus.

While bakeries and small supermarkets remained open, as providers of essential food supplies, some shopkeepers said they initially did not know what to do.

“Is jamón [ham in english] a primary need?” asked Pol Aranda, a seller of Spanish ham at a gourmet store near Barcelona’s City Hall, who was ordered by the police to close on Sunday.

As he rolled down the shop’s curtain at midday, Mr. Aranda tried to end on a light note.

“All the regional officials and public employees working nearby came to stockpile a lot of food yesterday, so it looks like for some, it’s definitely essential,” he said.

Grocery stores in Barcelona were open over the weekend, but shops considered nonessential were closed.

Grocery stores in Barcelona were open over the weekend, but shops considered nonessential
were closed.Credit... Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

Since its return to democracy after the 1975 death of Gen. Francisco Franco, the Spanish government has had a state of emergency only once, in 2010, when air traffic controllers held a wildcat strike. Military intervention swiftly reopened the country’s airports.

This time, the main opposition party agreed on the need to take such measures, lambasting Mr. Sánchez as having acted too late but saying it would probably approve an extension after the order expires in 15 days.

Still, there was concern about enforcement as regional tensions rose to the surface.

Politicians in the Catalan and Basque regions — where there have been strong independence movements — have insisted that the state of emergency should not be used to take over their specific regional powers, which include running their own police forces and managing hospitals.

On Sunday, the local news media were already reporting some law-and-order contradictions. While police officers in Madrid let off some cyclists with a warning for taking an illegal leisure ride, Catalan officers fined cyclists instead.

Many locals were struggling to understand Spain’s new order, with many questions left unanswered and a lack of clarity over who would be punished for breaking rules.

La Maquinista, one of Barcelona’s largest shopping centers, was almost completely empty on Saturday.

La Maquinista, one of Barcelona’s largest shopping centers, was almost completely empty
on Saturday.Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

An Uber driver in Madrid said she was afraid to take clients and wondered if drivers would also be held responsible if the police decided a passenger should not have been out.

Jorge Muñoz, a bank employee in Madrid, said he was unsure how much the lockdown would impact his joint custody agreement for his son.
“I would normally take him to school on Monday, but the school is, of course, shut,” he said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to get stopped by police for driving him to his mother’s instead.”

One of the immediate challenges for police officers on Sunday was to persuade tourists to abide by the new rules. Some seemed to see the measures as another major blow to the principles of the European Union, built on the idea of removing borders on the Continent.

“We are so used to free movement in Europe that the only way authorities can make us follow an order seems to be by putting the police out in the streets,” said Leonie Missfeldt, a 24-year-old German student who was taking a last walk by the beach in Barcelona before heading home on Monday.

Marika Shinozuka and Kazuki Hayashi, both from Japan, said they wanted to squeeze in more sightseeing before leaving Barcelona on Monday, earlier than planned.

“We’re wearing our masks and being careful,” Ms. Shinozuka said as she posed in front of a mural depicting Uncle Sam and the message “I Want You To Stay Home!” “We are all in the same boat now.”

Raphael Minder reported from Madrid, and Elian Peltier from Barcelona.

Raphael Minder is the Spain and Portugal correspondent, based in Madrid. He previously worked for Bloomberg News in Switzerland and for the Financial Times in Paris, Brussels, Sydney and finally Hong Kong. @RaphaelMinder

Elian Peltier is a reporter in the London bureau of The New York Times, focusing on breaking news. @ElianPeltier



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There is a virus killing people that has to be contained and someone pitches it against civil liberties?
Stay home and live or go out and get infected... the choice is yours...

this reporter calls it civil liberties.


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Spain reports more than 700 new coronavirus fatalities as death toll surpasses China

Spain is now the country with the second highest number of deaths from the COVID-19 coronavirus, surpassing China.

After a spike of more than 700 fatalities from the novel coronavirus, Spain's death toll on Wednesday surpassed 3,400, The Associated Pressreports. This overtakes China's current death toll of 3,285 and puts Spain second behind Italy in coronavirus deaths.

"If we are not already at the peak, we are very close,” the head of Spain's health emergency coordination center, Fernando Simón, said.

According to The Washington Post, the 700 new coronavirus deaths from Spain is the country's biggest increase since the beginning of the outbreak.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Sunday the country's state of emergency will be extended for another 15 days amid the increasing number of deaths, CNN reports.

"There are hard days ahead," he said over the weekend. "We have to get ready from a physiological and emotional standpoint. We have to get to the end of next week strong, very strong. The risk is everywhere."

The Wall Street Journalreports that "over the last two weeks, Spain has suffered one of the fastest-growing outbreaks of the coronavirus in the world, due to what experts say is a combination of the government's slow response to the pandemic, Spaniards' active nightlife and resistance to government-ordered lockdowns." Brendan Morrow