The Spanish government has declared a six-month state of emergency and ordered a nationwide curfew, while Italians have been strongly advised to stay at home as both countries impose tough limits on people’s movements in a effort to contain the second wave of the coronavirus.
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said his cabinet had approved a state of emergency on Sunday morning that is set to remain in force until 9 May 2021.
The decree will allow Spain’s regional governments to order an overnight curfew to run from 11pm to 6am, or to begin and finish and hour earlier or later. The only area of Spain exempt from the curfew is the Canary islands because of what Sánchez termed “the very positive epidemiological situation there”.
The state of emergency also permits Spain’s regional governments to bring in full or partial lockdowns, and limits public and private gatherings to six people.
“We have to protect our economic and work activity and preserve, as far as we can, the rhythms of our lives,” Sánchez said in a televised address on Sunday afternoon. “Sacrifices will be indispensable. No one, not the government of Spain nor its regional governments, want to impose a single restriction that isn’t necessary to flatten the curve and protect public health.”
He said his government would seek congressional approval for the six-month state of emergency next week, and called on opposition parties to support the measures. The initial declaration comes into effect on Sunday night and will last a fortnight.
Sánchez said the drastic decision had been taken following scientific and expert advice, but that it would not remain in force a day longer than necessary.
He said the government believed the situation could be brought under control without the imposition of the strict national lockdown that tamed the first wave of the virus in the spring and early summer. “The more we stay at home and the fewer the contacts we have, the more protected we’ll be, and the more we’ll be able to protect our loved ones and the health of everyone,” he said.
Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said the country’s escalating infection rate was already having a worrying impact on hospitals as he announced new restrictiions on Sunday.
His government has ordered the closure of gyms and swimming pools, and while bars and restaurants can offer takeaway services they must stop in-house dining from 6pm.
Cinemas and theatres will also close but museums can stay open. There will be no ban on inter-regional travel, although people have been urged not to leave their homes except on work, medical or educational grounds.
Up to 75% of high school teaching should be done online to limit the number of pupils in schools, according to the decree.
“The latest epidemiological data cannot leave us indifferent,” Conte said. “The analysis indicates a rapid growth, with the stress on the national health system at worrying levels.”
Italy’s daily infection tally has increased five-fold since 8 October, rising by 19,644 on Saturday. There were 151 more fatalities on Saturday, bringing the total death toll to 37,210, the highest on mainland Europe.
Conte said the measures were intended to avert the kind of tough lockdown the country experienced in the spring. “We need to do as much as possible to protect health and the economy … we know this is generating anger and inequality,” he said.
A €1.5-2m funding package is being considered to support businesses penalised by the latest measures.
There were clashes between protesters and police in the southern city of Naples on Friday night after a curfew was imposed across the Campania region. Dozens of militants belonging to the extreme rightwing group Forza Nuova also clashed with police on Saturday night in central Rome in response to a Lazio-wide curfew introduced on Friday.
The number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands rose by more than 10,000 in 24 hours, hitting a new record, according to data released by the National Institute for Public Health.
The Dutch government imposed partial lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus on 14 October, including the closure of all bars and restaurants in the country.
Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borissov, became the latest political figure to test positive for the coronavirus. “After two PCR tests, I am positive for Covid-19,” he said on his Facebook page on Sunday, adding that he had mild symptoms and would self-isolate at home.
The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, joining a list of leaders who have contracted the virus that includes the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, the US president, Donald Trump, and his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro.