Spain and France went into lockdown last night as the struggle to contain the coronavirus intensified.
With 193 deaths and 6,046 infections, Spain is the worst-hit country in Europe after Italy. Under draft new measures all public transport would be cut back and people must stay home except to buy food or medicine, go to the hospital, go to work or other emergencies.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced the restrictions following a huge spike in the number of infections in this nation of some 46 million people.
“The prohibition to circulate in the streets… must be followed starting today,” he said in a televised address after a cabinet meeting that lasted more than seven hours.
It left British tourists and students scrambling to get home before some of Europe’s most draconian restrictions came into force. There was chaos in the skies with flights from the UK to Spain being turned back mid-air.
France meanwhile announced the closure of all non-essential businesses, starting at midnight, including restaurants and cafes as the country reported 12 new deaths from coronavirus taking the total to 91.
Elsewhere Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Kosovo and Cyprus all closed their borders. Russia and Georgia followed suit.
With Spain’s lockdown only hours away Britons voiced fears of being unable to leave the country.
Maureen Green, 57, from Lancashire, who owns a holiday home in Torrevieja, on the Costa Blanca, said she has been in Spain for two weeks getting ready to put her house on the market – but now she fears she won’t be able to get home with her 84-year-old mother.
She said: “I believe the army are now joining forces with the police to make sure people stay indoors except for absolutely necessary visits to the supermarket, work or for medical care. My biggest nightmare at this time is that the airports will close and I’ll be trapped here.”
Sarah Cowie, 20, an Erasmus student who has been living in Granada since September, told The Sunday Telegraph flights were filling up rapidly.
Ms Cowie, from Aberdeenshire, said: “All the flights are getting booked up … and there are so many students trying to leave.”
As the country braced itself for the lockdown Madrid, the epicentre of Spain’s outbreak, was emptying out as residents fled to second homes on the coast before restrictions were brought in.
Málaga, Marbella and Benidorm were among many towns to close their beaches yesterday after thousands of Madrid residents swarmed to the coast, ignoring advice to stay in their homes.
The region of Murcia has also attempted to seal off its coastal towns, as traffic jams built up on the major exits out of the capital. Fernando López Miras, the region’s president, said: “This drastic action is necessary because of people’s irresponsibility.
Residents in Madrid and north-east Catalonia awoke yesterday to shuttered bars and restaurants and other non-essential commercial outlets as ordered by regional authorities the day before.
Authorities and public healthcare workers, as well as television and radio news anchors, are making pleas for people to stay at home in order to reduce the spiking contagion curve.
Earlier this week, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued advice against all but essential travel to certain parts of Spain, including Madrid, La Rioja, and the municipalities of La Bastida and Vitoria.
The new restrictions and spiralling death toll raised questions for British expats in Spain who may not be able to access care in an overwhelmed hospital system.
On Saturday, airline Jet2 cancelled all flights to mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands and TUI told customers that holidays booked to Spain between yesterday and tomorrow have been cancelled, prompting fears that British holidaymakers will not be able to leave the country.
A spokesman for Jet2, which operates out of nine UK airports, said the company was “acting off the back of Spanish authorities”, which has introduced emergency measures to close bars, restaurants and beaches.
A number of Jet2 flights to Spain turned back in mid-flight. A statement from the company said: “We are contacting our customers who are currently in these destinations, and who are due to travel, to advise them of their options, so we urge customers not to call us.”
You may be interested
Russia's journalists under increasing pressure from the secret services in wake of Putin's shaky referendum victoryadmin - July 11, 2020
Ivan Safronov was seized outside his home on Tuesday morning - TASSMoreRussia's intelligence services have 'stepped up' their war on…
A patient in their 30s has reportedly died from coronavirus after attending a 'COVID party' in Texasadmin - July 11, 2020
coronavirus patient texasMoreHealthcare workers talk to a COVID-19 patient at Houston's United Memorial Medical Center on July 2. Note: The…
More COVID-19 cases in Syria's overcrowded rebel enclaveadmin - July 11, 2020
FILE - In this March 19, 2020 file photo, a member of a humanitarian aid agency disinfects inside Ibn Sina…