Royal Decree 463/2020, of 14 March, declaring the state of alarm for the management of the health crisis situation caused by the COVID-19 is the legal instrument by which the Spanish government has declared the state of alarm throughout the national territory, as a result of the concurrence of extraordinary circumstances (i.e., the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic) that prevent the normal functioning of the country. This rule contains the temporary measures that, in the government’s opinion, are indispensable for restoring normalcy.
The following are the most relevant groups of measures provided for by the RD and whose implementation has been delegated to the Minister of Defence, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Transport, Mobility and the Urban Agenda and the Minister of Health, in their respective areas of responsibility.
A. Limitation on carrying out certain activities
In order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the government has decided to implement the following measures:
- Restriction of the freedom of movement of persons:
It has been established by the RD that during the period of the state of alarm, people will only be able to drive on public roads (including the use of private vehicles) to carry out the following activities:
- Refuelling at petrol stations or filling stations.
- Acquiring food, medicine and basic necessities.
- Attending healthcare centres, services and establishments.
- Travelling to their workplace to carry out their activity.
- Returning to their habitual place of residence.
- To assist and care for the elderly, minors, dependents, disabled or especially vulnerable people.
- To go to financial and insurance entities.
- To travel due to force majeure or a situation of need.
- To carry out other activities of a similar nature, which will be carried out individually, unless accompanied by disabled people or for another justified reason.
Although the literality of the provision only limits the development of such activities of a similar nature, requiring that they be carried out individually, an integrative and teleological interpretation of the provision should lead us to the conclusion that the rest of the activities must also be carried out individually.
- Temporary requirements and mandatory personal service:
The RD establishes the possibility that, in order to guarantee compliance with the objectives set out in the regulation, the competent authorities may temporarily requisition goods and impose on persons the performance of compulsory personal service.
- Measures in the field of education:
The government has agreed to suspend face-to-face classes at all centres of education and for all stages, cycles, grades, courses and levels of education (both public and private).
- Measures in relation to places of worship and civil and religious ceremonies:
In relation to this issue, attendance at places of worship, civil and religious ceremonies and funerals is prohibited when it is not possible to ensure that attendees maintain a distance of at least one metre between them.
B. Measures in the field of commercial activity, cultural facilities, activities and establishments and recreation, hotel and restaurant activities and other additional activities
In order to contain the spread of COVID-19 disease, the RD also includes measures related to the closure of establishments and the suspension of activities:
- Retail premises and establishments shall be closed to the public, with the exception of:
- Retail establishments that sell food, beverages, products and essential goods.
- Retail establishments that sell pharmaceutical, medical, optical and orthopaedic products and hygiene products.
- Dry cleaners and laundrettes.
- News agents / kiosks and stationery shops, and those shops that sell fuel for automobiles, tobacconists, technological and telecommunications equipment, pet food, and commerce that is conducted over the internet, telephone or other forms of correspondence.
Initially, hairdressers were also included, but on 15 March the Ministry of Health rectified the initial wording, clarifying that hairdressing services may only be provided at home to ensure the care and hygiene of the most vulnerable.
In any case, the duration of persons presence in the establishments that are scheduled to open shall be limited to the time strictly necessary to purchase the products and receive the services rendered.
- Museums, archives, libraries, monuments, premises and establishments where public shows, sports and leisure activities are held (e.g. café-entertainment, circuses, cinemas, auditoriums, theatres, football pitches, bowling alleys, racecourses, nightclubs, casinos, gambling halls) will remain closed to the public.
- Hospitality and restaurant activities are suspended (e.g. bars, cafes, chocolate shops, restaurants, terraces), with delivery services remaining available.
- The celebration of fairs, parades and popular festivities is suspended.
C. Measures to strengthen the National Health System throughout the national territory
In this sense, the RD has established that the Ministry of Health will have at its disposal all the health personnel of the public administrations of the Spanish territory. Likewise, the Minister of Health has the power to carry out the necessary actions so that the personnel, the health centres and establishments of a military nature, as well as the health centres, services and establishments of private ownership contribute to strengthening the National Health System.
D. Ensuring supply
With regard to ensuring the supply of certain goods and services, the RD contains measures to:
- Ensure the provision of goods and services necessary for the protection of public health (e.g. the Minister of Health may intervene and temporarily occupy industries, factories, workshops of any nature).
- Measures to ensure food supply (e.g. the government may agree to the intervention of businesses or services).
- Measures to ensure the supply of electricity, petroleum products and natural gas.
In relation to this issue, the RD also provides for the possibility of the adoption by the competent authorities of measures to ensure customs transit at entry points or border inspection points located in ports or airports. In this regard, priority will be given to products that are of primary need.
E. Other related protective measures
The RD also contains provisions relating to internal transport, critical infrastructure protection and public and private communications media.
F. Suspension of procedural deadlines and suspension of limitation and lapse periods
In line with the agreement adopted by the Permanent Commission of the General Council of the Judiciary, adopted in an extraordinary session on 14 March, the Second Additional Provision of the RD regulates the effects of the state of alarm on the suspension of terms and the suspension and interruption of procedural deadlines for all jurisdictional orders. The referred terms will be resumed as soon as the raising of the state of alarm or any of its extensions is agreed, which must be, in any case, approved by the Congress (Congreso de los Diputados).
The effects set out in the previous section do not apply in the cases listed below:
- Legal proceedings which, if not carried out, could cause irreparable damage.
- Internments that have an urgent character in accordance with article 763 of the Law on Civil Procedure, which correspond to those internments due to psychological disorders.
- The adoption of precautionary measures or other actions that cannot be postponed, such as those related to the protection of minors.
- The services on duty in the Courts of Violence against Women; especially those orders of protection and precautionary measures in matters of violence against women and minors.
- The Civil Registry will provide permanent attention during hearing hours.
- Proceedings in relation to detainees that cannot be postponed.
- Any proceedings with prisoners or detainees.
- Any urgent proceedings in the area of prison surveillance.
- In the contentious-administrative jurisdictional order, authorisations for sanitary entry that are urgent and cannot be postponed.
- In the social jurisdictional order, trials that are considered urgent.
- Processes that are alleged to violate fundamental rights and that are urgent and preferable, in the sense that their postponement would impede or make judicial protection very burdensome.
- The heads of each judicial authority may adopt measures relating to the cessation of activity in the judicial offices where their respective headquarters are located.
Likewise, with regard to the institutions of prescription and expiry, the Fourth Additional Provision of the RD provides that their terms are expressly suspended until the raising of the state of alarm or any of its extensions is agreed.
G. Suspension of administrative deadlines
In the administrative sphere, the RD provides that “terms are suspended and time limits are interrupted” in relation to the processing of procedures by public sector bodies. This is done, as stated by the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function, in order to concentrate public sector resources on those activities that are essential for the functioning of the State, while preserving the integrity and health of public employees, and this, until the RD ceases to be in force.
This measure, adopted yesterday by the Council of Ministers, is also linked to the declared will of the aforementioned Ministry, in order to allow the interested parties to adapt their expectations of terms and deadlines to the duration of the state of alarm, without the declaration of the same being able to harm the ordinary relations between citizens and public administrations.
Fifteen calendar days after the entry into force of the Royal Decree (i.e. 29 March 2020), the calculation of the aforementioned deadlines will be resumed. In the event of an extension of the state of alarm, the calculation of the deadlines will be resumed at the end of that period.
Exceptionally, the RD has provided that the competent body may agree, with reasons and the agreement of the interested party in the procedure, measures of order and instruction that are necessary to avoid serious damage to the rights and interests of the interested party.
Finally, the suspension of terms and the interruption of periods of time will not affect the rights and procedures resulting from the state of alarm, as set out in the RD (e.g. the administrative procedure by which the Minister of Health agrees to temporarily occupy a particular privately-owned health facility), nor the system of sanctions provided for in the RD itself.
The start of the state of alarm declared by the RD took place on 14 March 2020, when it was published in the BOE and came into force. This exceptional state has a duration of 15 calendar days (i.e. until 29 March 2020), unless the Congress of Deputies authorises its extension.