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Spain calls in army to fight COVID-19 pandemic

Spain calls in army to fight COVID-19 pandemic

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a face mask takes a picture as people enjoy sunny weather on San Xurxo beach on the coast of Ferrol, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, Spain August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

MADRID: Spain will call in the army to help identify those who have been exposed to people infected with coronavirus as part of efforts to curb the spread of the disease, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday (Aug 25).

The central government will make 2,000 soldiers who are trained in tracking available to the regions, which are responsible for health care, to assist in tracking cases and stem a rise in infections, he told a news conference. 

"We could even increase this figure as required through the urgent training which we have planned," Sanchez said.

Many experts have blamed a lack of virus trackers for a surge in COVID-19 infections in several Spanish regions such as Madrid and Catalonia.

Sanchez urged residents in Spain to use a smartphone app designed by the government called RadarCovid which can identify people who have crossed paths with a contagious patient and alert them so they can get tested or be quarantined.

He also announced that regional authorities could ask the central government to apply a state of emergency, which would allow it to limit people's movements, on part or all of its territory.

READ: Spain's COVID-19 cases top 400,000 after new surge last week

The central government declared a nationwide state of emergency in mid-March which allowed it to impose one of the world's strictest lockdowns. It was only fully lifted on Jun 21.

While the rise in infections in Spain is "worrying", it is "far from the situation in mid-March", Sanchez said.

"We can't let the pandemic to once again take control of our lives ... we must take control and halt this second curve."

Infections have risen sharply since Spain lifted the lockdown, but deaths have been much lower than during the epidemic's peak.

The country has more than 400,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease, the highest in western Europe, and one of the fastest growth rates on the continent.

Nearly 29,000 people have died, one of the world's highest tolls.

People queue to get tested for COVID-19 in Hospitalet del Llobregat, near Barcelona, Spain, Aug 21, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Albert Gea) People queue to get tested for the coronavirus disease ( COVID-19) in Hospitalet del Llobregat, near Barcelona, Spain, August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Albert Gea

READ: Why is Spain once again on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic?

REIMPOSED RESTRICTIONS 

Seeking to halt the resurgence, regional authorities brought back restrictions that were lifted after the national lockdown reduced the number of new cases.

In Catalonia, which has reported more than 1,000 daily cases over the past five days, social gatherings will be limited to 10 people, while southeastern Murcia banned meetings of more than six people and recommended people over 65 stay at home.

READ: Madrid advises residents to stay at home as COVID-19 cases soar

Catalan leader Quim Torra said the next three weeks - when thousands of workers will return from holidays and children are due to head back to school - will be crucial for reducing COVID-19 transmission.

"No distractions, no deviations and maximum concentration ... because one way or another this country has to get back to work and reopen schools," he told a news conference in Barcelona.

With the start of the school term just weeks away, teachers and parents' associations are angry at the government's lack of a coherent back-to-school plan.

Madrid, which has logged more than 24,000 cases in the past two weeks, has urged people in the worst-hit areas to stay at home and has not ruled out targeted lockdowns if the situation deteriorates.

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Source: Agencies/nh

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