Spanish PM on coronavirus crisis: “The worst is yet to come”

In a national address on Saturday, Pedro Sánchez warned that the number of infections is set to rise next week and place the country’s healthcare system under even greater strain

Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez during a national address on the coronavirus crisis.
Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez during a national address on the coronavirus crisis.MONCLOA PALACE PRESS OFFICE / HA / EL PAÍS

The coronavirus crisis in Spain is going to worsen next week, and Spaniards must be prepared to face an even more difficult situation. That was the message from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during a national address on Saturday night to discuss the pandemic, which as of yesterday had claimed 1,350 lives in Spain.

“Unfortunately the number of diagnosed cases is going to rise in the coming days. The worst is yet to come, and it is pushing our capacities to the limit,” said Sánchez. “The hardest part remains, and it will put our [healthcare] system on the ropes.”

The leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) called on the country to face the upcoming challenge with strength and unity. “We have to reach the end of next week very strong. The risk is everywhere, but the damage is concentrated in a few places,” said Sánchez, in reference to the Madrid region, where 60% of all coronavirus fatalities have occurred so far.

The prime minister defended the decision to declare a state of alarm last Saturday, arguing the lockdown in Spain had “bought time” for the healthcare system to prepare for the pandemic. Reflecting on the past seven days under lockdown, Sánchez said: “[The coronavirus] is a catastrophe that humanity wasn’t prepared for. These seven days have changed us. We look upon all life near to us as life at risk. We have changed how we view our neighbors, who are no longer seen as strangers. This crisis is bringing out the best in us.”

The prime minister, however, was not optimistic about the figures, nor did he give any certainties with respect to the crisis in Spain, which has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe after Italy. “We are fighting an enemy that we are getting to know bit by bit. As we get to know it, we are changing how we fight it,” said Sánchez. “Spain has followed the advice of international experts. We have been applying the strategy of the WHO [World Health Organization] to win the time needed to improve the resistance of our healthcare system, and so that science can find a vaccine.”

Before Sánchez made his address, a cacerolada – where people bang pots and pans as a form of protest – was held in some Spanish cities, particularly Madrid, to criticize the government’s handling of the crisis. The prime minister, however, defended his decision to gradually roll out measures before declaring a state of alarm on March 14, which effectively placed the entire country on lockdown.

“At all times, we have sought to apply the most effective measures with the fewest possible consequences for society,” he said. “Preserving the economy and our rights have defined the measures, which have been introduced in stages.”

When asked who was responsible for the decisions taken in January, February and early March, when Spaniards were carrying on as normal and could have furthered the spread of the outbreak, Sánchez was clear: “I am the prime minister and I assume all responsibility.”

“Spaniards will be the ones who in the future will have to evaluate what different administrations have done to defend their health,” he added.

On whether the government had considered stopping all production of non-essential goods, following China’s example, Sánchez replied: “Spain has taken the toughest measures of the world. Believe me.

“Confining citizens is an exceptionally serious measure in our culture,” he said.

The prime minister explained that putting the country on lockdown was not the only possible strategy, but failing to do so would have been “unsustainable given the enormous cost to human lives.”

Sánchez described the response of citizens to the new rules as “exemplary,” and also praised the telecommunications sector and other basic services for managing the surge in demand.

The Socialist leader added however that lockdown needed to be supported by more testing. “What’s important now is to provide fast tests to the largest number of people,” he said.

Sánchez also announced that he is working to guarantee the supply of face masks to all regions and to increase national production. “No one in my government is going to try to score political points with any region. The enemy is the virus. If someone wants to argue, we will reconcile. If someone wants to avoid their responsibilities, we will assume them,” he said.

No one in the Spanish government has concealed their concern over the coronavirus pandemic or the economic crisis that it has caused. Ministers are aware that the number of cases is going to rise next week, but trust that the decision to confine millions of people to their homes will soon curb the rate of infection.

The next step would be to suspend all non-essential production. The experts consulted by the government have not recommended taking that step, but it could be considered if Spain does not see the expected drop in coronavirus cases.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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