By Vincent West
VITORIA, Spain (Reuters) – Schools and universities in the Basque capital Vitoria will close for two weeks, sending tens of thousands of pupils home, authorities in the region said on Monday as the coronavirus spread in Spain.
With nearly 150 confirmed cases, the Basque Country in northern Spain is among the worst-hit areas in the country, which has a total of 999 cases.
Twenty-four people have died in Spain from the virus, official figures show, after eight new fatalities were reported in Madrid on Monday.
“All education activities are suspended in the city of Vitoria for two weeks … from kindergarten to universities,” a spokesman for the Basque Country education department told Reuters.
The measure would affect 63,000 students, Basque newspaper El Correo said.
Schools will also be closed for two weeks in the smaller Basque town of Labastida.
Some parents were already expressing doubts about whether the school closures would be the right solution to control the spread of the virus.
“I don’t know if it will be beneficial or will cause more alarm,” Mikel Arrikstain, 38, told Reuters as he collected his child from school in Vitoria and wondering whether the care of the children would fall to grandparents.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the government was preparing plans to mitigate the impact of the virus on the Spanish economy.
Without giving details, Sanchez said the government had been working on the plan for two weeks and was now ready to roll it out in collaboration with trade unions and businesses.
“We will announce a shock therapy plan in a few days, as soon as we determine the exact diagnosis and fine-tune the measures,” Sanchez said at a conference. “We want the plan to be effective and proportional to the scale of the problem.”
Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said the government was considering taking temporary measures to support the worst-hit industries, such as tourism.
Calvino said the government expected the economic impact of the coronavirus to be temporary and limited.
Several major events have been called off or postponed in Spain to minimize the transmission risk, but the government has so far not introduced more drastic measures such as travel bans.
By mid-afternoon, Spanish shares had fallen more than 6% as European markets plunged.
European Union leaders are set to hold a teleconference shortly to discuss a coordinated EU response to the coronavirus outbreak.
(Reporting by Vincent West in Vitoria and Emma Pinedo, Belen Carreno, Inti Landauro and Jessica Jones in Madrid; Writing by Nathan Allen, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Giles Elgood and Timothy Heritage)