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Spain cabinet, royals tested as Equality Minister infected with coronavirus

MADRID: Spain’s cabinet and the royal family underwent coronavirus testing Thursday after a minister tested positive and was quarantined with her partner, the second deputy prime minister.

Equality Minister Irene Montero’s positive test coincided with infections nationwide jumping to 2,968 cases by 1200 GMT, from 2,140 on Wednesday evening, and deaths leaping to 84 from 48 within the same timeframe.

Writing on Twitter, Montero, 32, said she had tested positive late Wednesday, three days after appearing at a mass march of some 120,000 people through Madrid for International Women’s Day.

She and her partner Pablo Iglesias went into quarantine, an official statement said.

Government ministers all underwent testing on Thursday, it added.

Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia were also tested for the virus after taking part in an event with the minister several days ago, the palace told AFP.

A special cabinet meeting to discuss an emergency plan to respond to the crisis went ahead and was attended by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and 14 other ministers.

Later on Thursday, Sanchez gave a televised press conference without any journalists present, answering questions posed via WhatsApp.

Spain has seen the number of infections spiral since the start of the week, becoming one of the worst-hit countries in Europe.

Madrid has borne the brunt of the crisis, clocking up 1,388 infections and 38 deaths by Thursday morning.

“To beat the virus as quickly as possible, responsibility and social discipline is essential. This requires big changes in our habits,” said Sanchez who will conduct all future meetings by video conference.

Sanchez said the government had agreed on a raft of economic measures including a tax moratorium for affected companies as well as funding for the worst-hit sectors, such as tourism — which accounts for 12 percent of Spain’s GDP.

In total, some 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion) would be unblocked, including nearly 3.0 billion for the regional health authorities, he said, with the tax deferrals and delayed payments amounting to some 14 billion euros.

His remarks came after yet another dire session for Spain’s benchmark Ibex-35 which plunged more than 14 percent at the close, the worst drop on record.

Montero is not the only politician to have tested positive with several members of the far-right Vox also infected along with an MP from the Conservative opposition People’s Party.

All parliamentary sessions were suspended on Tuesday after Vox said its deputy leader had come down with the virus.

Also Thursday, La Liga said Spain’s top two divisions would be suspended for at least two weeks after Real Madrid confirmed its senior football team was in quarantine after one of the club’s basketball players tested positive for the virus.

The club’s football and basketball players share facilities at Ciudad Real Madrid, its training ground in Valdebebas.

The culture ministry also announced the nationwide closure of all state-run museums.

Also Thursday, seven other Spanish regions announced school closures, among them the northern regions of Catalonia, Aragon, Navarre, the Basque Country and Galicia, as well as Murcia in the south east and the Canary Islands.

Such measures are already in place in the Madrid region and La Rioja.