Spanish media reported Saturday that Spain's government will announce that it is placing tight restrictions on movement for the nation of 46 million people while declaring a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.
News agency Europa Press and daily newspaper El Mundo reported the drastic step shortly before Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was due to address the nation.
Health authorities in Spain said Saturday that coronavirus infections have reached 5,753 people, half of them in the capital, Madrid. That represents a national increase of over 1,500 in 24 hours.
Sánchez acknowledged on Friday that the number of infections could reach 10,000 in the coming days.
Spain has followed Italy's path in implementing a similar lockdown after both European countries failed to contain the virus in regional hotspots.
Italy extended the strict restriction on movement from the north to the entire country on March 9 when it registered over 9,000 infections. It then went further on March 11 and closed all retail outlets except some supermarkets and pharmacies.
Already in Spain, residents in Madrid and northeast Catalonia awoke Saturday to shuttered bars and restaurants and other non-essential commercial outlets as ordered by regional authorities the day before.
The decision by prime minister Sánchez comes after some regions of Spain with viral clusters, led by Madrid, had taken steps to close restaurants and other non-essential establishments. The regional chiefs of Madrid and Catalonia had also asked for the central government to help tighten the screws on transport and restrict the circulation of people.
The normally bustling streets of Spain's two biggest cities were noticeably quieter as the message sinks in that social distancing is the only way to stop the global pandemic after its eruption in China.
Spooked shoppers packed some supermarkets early in the morning despite calls for calm from authorities and supermarket owners.
In the capital, however, the town hall was forced to close parks after many people continued their Saturday morning jogs and other outdoor pastimes.
Authorities and public health care workers, as well as television and radio news anchors, are making pleas for people to stay at home in order to reduce the spiking contagion curve.
Authorities in parts of southern Spain have also blocked access to coastal areas in an attempt to stop people who had taken advantage of the closing of schools this week and "work from home" options to take impromptu beach trips.
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.
Oklahoma City honors victims of the 1995 bombing that shocked the nation in what remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history through a memorial and museum, annual remembrance ceremonies and a marathon.
This year for the 25th anniversary of the April 19, 1995, attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that left 168 people dead, organizations throughout the city are making special observances through art.
"(Arts) can be an outlet for expressing, particularly emotions, in a safe way," for both the audience and the performers, said Dr. Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association.
"Anniversaries for some can be what we call a trigger ... a trigger is often thought of as an unhappy remembrance of what happened. For others, coming together with people and having a remembrance is incredibly important," to share grief, Wright said.
In February, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic performed "Of Thee I Sing," a symphonic and choral presentation it commissioned.
The Oklahoma City Ballet is planning multiple performances, including one choreographed to songs by country singer Vince Gill, a native of Oklahoma.
"As an arts organization, I thought it would be good to acknowledge it somehow, rather than just come out on stage and make an announcement, (or) have a moment of silence," said the ballet's artistic director, Robert Mills.
Gill, Mills said, has given his blessing and use of his songs "Oklahoma Borderline," "Go Rest High on That Mountain," "Hey God," "When Love Finds You," and "The Sun is Gonna Shine on You," which range from somber to upbeat.
"There's so many young people that weren't even born," Mills said. "People should not forget days like April 19."
The ballet and the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre presentation of "The Oklahoma City Project," a reading in which actors recite the writings of survivors, first responders and family members of victims, are currently still scheduled despite concerns about the spreading coronavirus, according to spokesmen for the two organizations.
But at least one performance has been postponed because of COVID-19. The Canterbury Voices of Oklahoma City hopes to reschedule "Of Perpetual Solace," an original work described as "a poetic and lyrical reflection on grief, loss and love" for later this year, according to marketing manager Kelly Moore.
Reactions from those directly impacted by the bombing are mixed.
"We will never heal from what happened April 19, 1995," said Jannie Coverdale, whose grandsons Aaron Coverdale, 5, and Elijah Coverdale, 2, were among 19 children killed inside the building's day care.
"If they think they're healing us they're just wasting their time, maybe they're healing themselves," Coverdale said.
But Susan Walton, 69, who was making a deposit at the credit union inside the building when the truck-bomb exploded, said she's grateful for the efforts.
"To know that people are still with us — it is greatly appreciated that they're remembering it," she said.
Chris Fields, a now-retired Oklahoma City firefighter captured in an Associated Press Pulitzer Prize winning photo carrying fatally injured Baylee Almon from the rubble of the building, agreed.
"I think it's important that we don't ever forget," Fields said. "Anything to honor the sacrifice of those victims and survivors I welcome with open arms."
Two men were convicted in the bombing. Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001; co-conspirator Terry Nichols remains behind bars, serving a life sentence.
Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, worries that people will forget what happened and that the bombing has been overshadowed by events such as the Sept. 11 terror attacks and mass shootings, including one in Las Vegas in 2017 that was the deadliest in modern U.S. history.
"It's our goal, it's our mission to keep the story going. ... Absolutely it's hard. Other things have happened since this happened here," Watkins said.
Other commemorations this year include the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder providing free admission once monthly to the museum and wearing special uniforms at some games. The Thunder also presented families of the victims with a medallion depicting the survivor tree, a scarred American elm that withstood the blast, and replicas of uniform jerseys with the names of the victims on the back and the number 95, for the year the bombing occurred.
Coverdale said she appreciates what the team has done.
"After all these 25 years, they're the ones that have comforted us the most," Coverdale said. "They remember what happened to us that day."
The Afghan government Saturday postponed the release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners, an Afghan official said, a decision that could sabotage a peace deal signed last month between the Taliban and the United States.
Jawed Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Adviser's office, said the releases were being delayed because more time was needed to review the list of prisoners. The move comes despite President Ashraf Ghani's decree earlier this week promising the start of the releases Saturday as a good will gesture to get intra-Afghan negotiations started.
The U.S.-Taliban deal was touted at the time as the best chance at ending Afghanistan's endless wars and bringing U.S. troops home after nearly 19 years.
There was no immediate response from the Taliban to the delayed prisoner release.
Faisal said Ghani's government wanted more time to review the list of prisoners. The U.S.-Taliban deal called for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban as well as 1,000 Afghan government captives ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations, considered a critical next step to reaching a lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Ghani's decree promised the release of 100 prisoners a day beginning Saturday until 1,500 prisoners were released. He would then release the remaining 3,500 after intra-Afghan talks began and those releases would be staggered and would go ahead only if talks progressed and Taliban reduced violence.
Although Ghani's decree differs from the U.S.-Taliban deal, Faisal insisted Ghani was committed to releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
However, Ghani is embroiled in political turmoil in Kabul, where he is battling his leading political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has also declared himself president. Abdullah has so far refused to accept the results of last year's presidential results charging widespread irregularities and abuse of power by Ghani. Still, the national election commission last month declared Ghani the winner despite allegations lodged also by the elections complaints commission.
Meanwhile, the decree Ghani announced on Wednesday said the first round of 1,500 prisoners to be freed would be selected based on age, health and the length of their sentences already served. The released prisoners, who would be biometrically identified, would also have to give a written guarantee that they would not return to the battlefield.
The Taliban handed off their list of 5,000 to an American negotiator, who delivered it to the Afghan government administration. The Taliban's spokesman in Qatar, where the insurgent group maintains a political office, said the Taliban would accept only those on the pre-approved list and warned Kabul against offering substitutes.
The Taliban said they are committed to the deal they made with the United States but would not start negotiations with Kabul government or other political leaders until the prisoners were freed.
Even if the Taliban were ready to talk, it's not clear when Kabul would be ready to field a negotiating team as the feud between opposing politicians has yet to be resolved.
The United States has said its withdrawal of troops — which has already begun — was not dependent on successful negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
However, the U.S. State Department has issued statements urging Kabul's feuding politicians to find a compromise, urged an end to "posturing" and said many of the Taliban prisoners on the list had already served their sentence and that the names were decided after lengthy negotiations.
Washington also chastised the Taliban for resuming attacks on Afghanistan's security forces, even though they promised not to attack U.S. and NATO troops. Washington said the level of Taliban violence was too high and wanted to see a reduction.
Despite the political chaos in Kabul and increased violence on the battlefield, the United States has started withdrawing its troops in keeping with the deal it signed Feb. 29 with the Taliban. In the first phase, Washington will reduce its troops contingent to 8,600, down from the current 13,000.
If the Taliban adhere to their commitments to deny terrorists safe havens in Afghanistan, Washington will withdraw the remainder of its troops over 14 months, according to the agreement.
Coronavirus cases in Spain have risen by 1,500 to more than 5,700, public health officials say, reports The BBC.
Spain is the worst affected country in Europe after Italy, which has more than 15,000 cases.
The news comes as the Spanish government meets to declare a national state of emergency, for only the second time in its recent history.
On Friday the World Health Organization (WHO) said Europe was now the "epicentre" of the pandemic.
Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives.
Several European countries have reported steep rises in infections and deaths in recent days.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on constitutional changes that could keep him in power for another 16 years, a step that must still be approved in a nationwide vote.
Putin signed the measure on Saturday, the Kremlin said, three days after it sailed through the Russian parliament with only one vote against. It must be approved by the country's Constitutional Court and in a referendum set for April 22.
Under current law, Putin would not be able to run for president again in 2024 because of term limits, but the new measure would reset his term count, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms. He has been in power since 2000.
Other constitutional changes further strengthen the presidency and emphasize the priority of Russian law over international norms — a provision reflecting the Kremlin's irritation with the European Court of Human Rights and other international bodies that have often issued verdicts against Russia.
The changes also outlaw same-sex marriage and mention "a belief in God" as one of Russia's traditional values.