Barcelona, Spain – With the number of coronavirus cases spiralling to more than 6,000 and the death toll reaching 190, Spain on Saturday followed Italy and prepared to impose an unprecedented lockdown.
The country’s left-wing government declared a two-week state of emergency which will start from Monday at 07:00 GMT.
Some 47 million Spaniards must stay at home in an attempt to contain an outbreak which has seen 1,500 new cases in the past 24 hours. Spain has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world, behind China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
In practical terms, the emergency order means Spaniards will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food, get medicines, see a doctor, leave the house for an emergency or go to work.
Already Spain has the feel of a country that has closed for business, and the atmosphere is tense.
The crackdown started last week when schools closed, confining not just 15 million pupils to home but their parents, too.
Juggling work with child care has proved a difficult balance for some.
Begona Lopez, 37, a marketing executive from Barcelona, has a four-year-old son who is too young to understand why he is confined to his mother’s cramped flat.
“My son has a habit of touching everything, so I can hardly take him out. It is not safe. He is careering around the flat on his bike in his pyjamas. I am not sure how much I can take of this,” she told Al Jazeera.
The streets in many cities were empty on Saturday, with bars, restaurants, clubs and other businesses deserted. On many roads, there were few cars. The government has ordered the population to work from home, or “teletrabajo” as it is called in Spanish. Public transport will continue to operate to ensure those in essential sectors such as health or transport can get to their place of work, but services will be reduced by 50 percent.
The skies above Spain are also emptying as many airlines have stopped flights there.
Jet2, a British airline, ordered flights bound for Spain on Saturday to turn round in midair and return to UK airports.