Spain decrees the state of alarm for the coronavirus: what it means and how it affects us

Following in the wake of Portugal, the government of Spain has decreed a state of alarm at the national level for the coronavirus. It is, therefore, the second time in the history of Spanish democracy that such a measure has been taken. The first was in 2010, when the air traffic controllers strike that took place during the Zapatero government. It should be noted that the state of alarm will be effective when they are approved at the next extraordinary Council of Ministers, which will take place tomorrow.

This state of alarm is included in Organic Law 4/1981 of June 1. In Article 4, it is defined that the Government "may declare a state of alarm, in all or part of the national territory, when any of the following serious disturbances of normality occurs", including "health crises, such as epidemics and serious pollution situations. " Recall that COVID-19 was recently declared a "pandemic" by WHO.

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Institutional declaration of the Prime Minister, @ sanchezcastejon. # Coronavirus # Covid_19 https://t.co/2geByxWs8n

- La Moncloa (@desdelamoncloa) March 13, 2020

As for the duration, the law states that the state of alarm cannot exceed 15 days, although it could be extended with "express authorization from the Congress of Deputies, which in this case may establish the scope and conditions in force during the extension".

During his appearance, Pedro Sánchez has recognized that the state of alarm is an "instrument of our Rule of Law" included in the Constitution to deal with crises "as extraordinary" as the one in which we find ourselves immersed. The impact of the coronavirus has been described by the President as a "health and social emergency".

At the meeting that will take place tomorrow, the Council of Ministers will adapt a "set of exceptional decisions under the declaration of the state of alarm to be decreed tomorrow". These, he affirms, will be aimed at mobilizing "all the resources of the State as a whole", including economic, health, public, private, civil and military resources, for the protection of "all citizens and, in particular, those who are most vulnerable to the virus due to their age "or other factors.

Sánchez has reminded young people that they can act as transmitters and that they must avoid contacts and maintain social distance

On the other hand, Sánchez has stated that the Government is "going to guarantee adequate living conditions to stop the pandemic with the best possible impact." The president has acknowledged that we are "in a first phase of the fight against the virus", that "very hard weeks" await us and that "it cannot be ruled out that next week we will reach 10,000 affected".

This measure is intended to prevent the spread of the virus. "We all have a task and a mission," says the president, who urges older and chronically ill people to protect themselves and avoid exposure in public places. Also for the youngest he has had words, remembering that they can act as transmitters and that they must avoid contacts and maintain social distance. Finally, Sánchez has alluded to individual responsibility, stating that "it will take weeks, it will be very hard and difficult, but we are going to stop the virus."

What it means to declare an alarm state

Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister, declares the state of alarm in Spain.

Knowing the context of what an alarm state means, let's see how it can affect us on a daily basis. In order to know the consequences that the state of alarm can have, it is necessary to refer to the articles from four to twelve of the aforementioned law. As we said, the state of alarm is decreed by prior agreement in the Council of Ministers, which determines the territorial scope, duration and effects thereof. In this case, the scope is at the national level and the duration is the maximum, fifteen days.

"The decree will determine the territorial scope, duration and effects of the state of alarm, which may not exceed fifteen days"

Since the state of alarm has been declared, the Government considers itself the "competent authority", although it can delegate the post to the president of an autonomous community in the event that the state of alarm only affects said territory. Be that as it may, the Government will have to report to the Congress of Deputies about the state of alarm and the decrees issued during its validity. Simply put, there are certain control mechanisms.

In this situation, all the civil authorities of the public administration, as well as the autonomous police forces and those of the local corporations, their workers and functions, will come under the orders of the competent authority (remember, the Government ) "as necessary for the protection of persons, property and places". In this sense, extraordinary services can be imposed on them, such as extended hours, for example.

What measures does the alarm state contemplate? Quoting verbatim article eleven of Organic Law 4/1981 of June 1:

a) Limit the movement or permanence of people or vehicles at specific times and places, or condition them to fulfill certain requirements.

b) Practice temporary searches of all kinds of assets and impose mandatory personal benefits.

c) Intervene and temporarily occupy industries, factories, workshops, farms or premises of any nature, with the exception of private homes, reporting to the Ministries concerned.

d) Limit or ration the use of services or the consumption of basic necessities.

e) Issue the necessary orders to ensure the supply of the markets and the operation of the services of the production centers affected by section d) of the fourth article.

In other words, when the state of alarm is decreed, the movements of people can be limited, as well as the concentrations. Rationing measures can be established and even occupy premises of any nature, excluding, of course, the private houses of each. The fact that the law contemplates these measures does not mean that they will be applied in their entirety.

In addition to these measures, in the event of a state of alarm due to a health crisis, the Government could adopt the measures established in the regulations for the fight against infectious diseases, contemplated in the Decree of July 26, 1945 and updated in November 1979. These include, for example, the isolation of infectious-contagious patients (chapter two), preventive vaccinations (chapter four) or the declaration of an epidemic state.

Are there penalties for breaching these measures? Yes. Article ten contemplates that "non-compliance or resistance to the orders of the competent Authority in the state of alarm will be punished in accordance with the provisions of the laws." If the officials fail to comply with them, they may be immediately suspended from office "passing, as the case may be, the blame on the judge."

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