More calls for total lockdown as coronavirus crisis in Catalonia escalates

94 deaths and 2,000 cases in last day as some scientists say health system could collapse on March 25


Social meals being prepared in a kitchen (by Barcelona council)
Social meals being prepared in a kitchen (by Barcelona council) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

March 23, 2020 02:46 PM

The coronavirus crisis in Catalonia is escalating, with Monday being the worst day for new cases declared. 

Over 1,900 people tested positive on Monday, according to the latest update from the health ministry, bringing the total figure to 7,864

In the 24 hours leading up to Sunday evening, 94 people with covid-19 died. To date, 339 people have passed away with the virus, leading to an ever increasing stress on the public health system. 

Yet, Catalonia's authorities are anticipating that the situation will get even worse in the coming days – in fact, the system is "at risk of collapse" this week, as the government put it last Thursday. 

A group of 70 high-profile scientists estimate that on Wednesday, March 25, the system will collapse. In order to avoid that situation, they joined the calls for the Spanish government to accept a total lockdown on the areas with more contagions – an appeal championed by the Catalan government, and joined by other Spanish regional cabinets. 

To counter the possibility of the health system collapsing, the department of health stated it aims at doubling the number of available intensive care beds by the end of this week, and tripling the number by next week. 

The ministry also warns of "very tense" situations to come in the next month. 

Number of people diagnosed per day


Scientists: total lockdown on Catalonia

A statement by 70 scientists including infectious illnesses experts Bonaventura Clotet, Oriol Mitjà and Xavier Rodó read: "We need to anticipate at the situation, waiting to react makes no sense."

"It is absolutely necessary to intensify the confinement measures, and those to restrict mobility in order to stop covid-19."

They all call for a total lockdown for those areas registering more than 25 cases per million of inhabitants, including Catalonia and the Madrid region, for at least two or three weeks. 

They also believe that activity in ports, airports and train links should be "totally interrupted" until April 4 – so far Spain's government has only closed land borders, and grounded non-essential flights

Catalan government joined in calls for lockdown

The Catalan cabinet has been asking Spain for a total lockdown since March 12, but has not been successful. 

President Torra asked for it again on Sunday in a videoconference call with Spain's leader Pedro Sánchez and other regional presidents, and on Monday, the Catalan cabinet again demanded the measure be implemented. 

"We hope that Sánchez does not take the same time as the Italian government to make the decision [complete lockdown]," said spokesperson Budó. 

On Sunday, Torra was joined by the preidents of the Madrid, Murcia and Andalusia regions in calls for an enhancement of the lockdown. Indeed, Murcia ordered the halt of all non-essential activity, pending approval from the Spanish central government. 

App, hiring of retired professionals and students

In order to increase the capacity of the health system, on Thursday the health minister Alba Vergés made a call for 1,500 retired healthcare professionals under 70 to return to their former places of work and join efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Vergés said her department was also calling upon at least 400 doctors who graduated last year, but hadn’t found permanent positions, to start working immediately. Some 1,700 final year nursing students and 970 final year medical students will also be requested to join the effort, performing tasks suited to their level of expertise and training.

Last week, the government also launched an app to monitor possible cases of coronavirus from home – 740,000 people had already used the 'Stop Covid-19 Cat' app by Monday.

Also on Monday, the manufacturing of respirators in Catalonia began as part of a public-private effort. 

In order to reinforce the system, the public authorities took over private healthcare centers last week, and now certain hotels are being adapted to also allow covid-19 patients, such as Cotton House hospital, in central Barcelona.

Several private initiatives are volunteering and offering their services to cope with the disease, and the Catalan government has launched a marketplace in order to connect businesses, technology centers, and other entities that can offer supply, ideas, or production capacity. 

Total number of cases