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On the heels of Italy, Spain to go drastic in battling virus

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

A couple kiss, at the Barcelona airport, Spain, Thursday, March 12, 2020. President Donald Trump, who had downplayed the coronavirus for weeks, suddenly struck a different tone, announcing strict rules on restricting travel from much of Europe to begin this weekend. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

MADRID – With Italy already submerged in a national quarantine, Spain took a major step Friday toward a similar lock-down as it struggles to ride the wave of the coronavirus pandemic spawning illness and fear around the globe.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said his government will declare a two-week state of emergency on Saturday, giving itself extraordinary powers including the mobilization of the armed forces, to confront the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It's an emergency that affects the life and health of all," Sánchez said, adding that he is preparing a battery of measures to brace the nation for an even bigger jump in infections indicated by the rapidly increasing contagion curve.

The positive cases could be over 10,000 by next week, the prime minister warned in his televised address, from more than 4,200 confirmed by midday Friday. A total 120 people have died, and 189 have been declared as recovered.

A state of emergency allows the central government to limit free movement, legally confiscate goods and take over control of industries and private facilities, including private hospitals. It's only the second time that the government has evoked it since the return of democracy in the late 1970s. The other was declared during a 2010 air traffic controllers' strike.

Over 60,000 people awoke Friday in four towns near Barcelona confined to their homes and with police blocking roads, in the country's first mandatory lock-down. The southeastern region of Murcia since announced it was locking down coastal areas popular with tourists.

More than 62 countries, including neighboring Morocco, have restricted arrivals from Spain, which has so far only stopped flights with Italy. On Friday, the British government advised against all but essential travel to Spain's La Rioja, parts of the Basque Country and the Madrid region, which has seen more than 2,000 positive cases of the new virus.

With hospitals rapidly filling up, the Spanish capital is a source of particular concern.