March 15, 2020 / 11:10 AM / 19 days ago

Army disinfects train stations as Spain's coronavirus death toll doubles

MADRID (Reuters) - Army specialists in protective suits sprayed disinfectant in train stations and police in surgical masks ordered casual strollers to go home on Sunday after Spain clamped down during a coronavirus outbreak that saw deaths more than double overnight.

Members of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) wearing protective suits disinfect corridors and hand rails at Santa Justa train station following a partial lockdown as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the coronavirus outbreak in Seville, Spain March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

Spaniards, housebound by law since Saturday, emerged on balconies and stood at windows on Sunday evening to whoop and beep horns in appreciation of emergency services dealing with Europe’s second-worst outbreak after Italy.

The government’s official coronavirus death toll rose by 152 overnight to 288. The number of infected rose by 2,000 cases to 7,753. Schools across the country are closed, keeping millions of children at home. Social gatherings are banned.

The sudden Spanish lockdown, along with similarly abrupt moves to curtail public life in France, has astonished Western Europe this weekend, as countries follow Italy in imposing restrictions unseen in peacetime.

Among the high-profile figures to test positive in Spain were the prime minister’s wife, two Cabinet ministers and five players of top-flight soccer club Valencia.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) said it would close its factory in Valencia for one week starting on Monday after three employees tested positive for the virus. The plant, one of Ford’s largest outside the United States, employs 7,000 to make vehicles including the Mondeo.

Also on Sunday, Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) said it would indefinitely close its plant in the northern region of Navarra, which makes the Polo and T-Cross models, as it struggled to staff the factory in the face of draconian safety measures.

Public places from city streets to beaches across Spain were deserted, while police fined cyclists out for a spin on Sunday after the government decreed citizens could only leave their homes for essential outings like buying food.

Police used drones to send public messages telling people to go home at one popular leisure spot, while the government ordered the army’s pharmacy specialists to produce disinfectant and generic medicines in bulk.

Britain advised on Sunday against all but essential travel to Spain. Thousands of inbound flights have been cancelled and the country’s renowned Easter processions have been called off in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Spain and Portugal will agree to restrict tourism between the two countries from Monday to curb the infection’s spread, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

Spaniards fretted about the economic consequences of a nationwide lockdown that has shuttered bars, restaurants and many shops.

More than half of jobs in the country are dependent on small or medium-sized companies and Spain already has one of the developed world’s highest unemployment rates.

“This city depends on tourism - what with all the bars and restaurants and shops - this is really going to economically damage many businesses,” said 52-year-old Leonel Sanchez, who was out to buy food on Madrid’s main thoroughfare, Gran Via.

Additional reporting by Julien Hennequin in Madrid and Richard Martin and Joan Faus in Barcelona; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Cooney

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