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Spain to be under lockdown from Monday

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

By Belén Carreño and Jessica Jones

The Spanish government plans to put the country's 47 million inhabitants under lockdown from Monday as part of a 15-day state of emergency plan to combat the coronavirus, a draft of an official decree seen by Reuters showed.

The government will say all Spaniards must stay home except to buy food, go to the pharmacy, to the hospital, or to work or for other emergencies, the draft showed.

All public transport will be curtailed, the draft showed, with airline, train, bus and boat operators told they need to cut their services by at least half and that any plane, train, bus or other means of transport can only be a third full.

The draft decree does not, however, foresee closing the country's borders.

Employers will have the obligation to let their workers work remotely and judicial proceedings will be suspended.

Spain's Interior Ministry will control all police forces, including local and regional ones, under the 15-day emergency.

The health and transport ministries will also have nationwide reach, taking over some local or regional powers.

The draft says the lockdown will enter into force on Monday at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) while all other measures will enter into force as soon as the decree is published in the official journal.

The cabinet meeting due to adopt the decree was still taking place, and some measures could still change. The government did not comment on the details of the leaks, also reported in Spanish media, but said only the final version will be valid.

CASES UP BY A THIRD FROM FRIDAY

A news conference, initially announced for 1300 GMT was first delayed by an hour and is now set for later in the day, with no specific time.

The draft decree would also allow the government to ration supplies and requisition factories and buildings, apart from private homes.

Earlier in the day, authorities in Madrid urged people to stay home, the southern city of Seville announced the cancellation of hugely popular Holy Week celebrations and shops in several regions shut down on Saturday as Spain scrambled to try and fight the coronavirus.

Spain is the second-hardest hit country in Europe after Italy, with 5,753 cases recorded on Saturday, up by a third from Friday even as health authorities in Madrid, which has the highest number of cases, stopped testing people with only mild symptoms.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftwing government took few steps at first to impose tough measures and changed tack only this week. The opposition has criticised the government for letting events like International Women's Day marches go ahead a week ago.

National and regional authorities have said they reacted appropriately, taking stronger measures when the number of cases started soaring on Monday.

With schools now shut across the country and a first package of economic measures announced on Thursday, the government is also expected to announce on Saturday a new package of economic and social measures.

In an increasingly deserted capital city, where all shops except supermarkets and pharmacies have shut down, posters put up by the city authorities read: "The best option to prevent the propagation of the virus is to stay at home."