CORONAVIRUS

Spanish government tightens lockdown to include all non-essential workers

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will convene a Cabinet meeting to approve the measure, which is aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Spain

Pedro Sánchez makes his televised statement on Saturday evening.
Pedro Sánchez makes his televised statement on Saturday evening.Borja Puig de la Bellacasa / POO / EFE

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday the total lockdown of all 47 million Spaniards apart from those who are working in essential sectors, in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus and to reduce the congestion of the country’s intensive care units (ICUs). At an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on Sunday, ministers will approve the confinement of non-essential workers to their homes for the next two weeks, from Monday March 30, until Thursday April 9, inclusive.

“This measure will reduce the mobility of people even further, it will reduce the risk of contagion and will allow us to decongest the ICUs,” Pedro Sánchez explained in a televised statement on Saturday night, adding that he recognized that the measures were ”extraordinarily tough.”

Pedro Sánchez recognized that the new measures were “extraordinarily tough”

On Saturday the Health Ministry announced that a total of 5,704 people had died so far in Spain as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, with 72,248 infections detected. More than 40,600 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized, while 12,285 have recovered from the Covid-19 disease and have been discharged from hospital. A total of 4,575 patients are currently in the ICUs of Spanish hospitals.

The Spanish Cabinet declared a state of alarm two weeks ago today, introducing measures that confined residents to their homes apart from certain conditions, such as leaving to purchase food or medication, or to go to their place of work if they could not perform their duties from home. The measures were initially put in place for a two-week period, but earlier this week were extended by Congress until April 12, which is Easter week in Spain. Friday April 10 is a national holiday across Spain.

The new measures will restrict the movement of residents in Spain for work purposes apart from those employed in the sectors of foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, veterinarians, opticians, hygiene products, the press, fuels for the automotive sector, tobacconists, IT and telecommunications vendors, pet food, internet vendors and dry cleaners. Banks will also remain operational, while motor mechanics will continue to offer a service to the freight sector, but will not be open to the general public.

The full details of the tighter restrictions will be made public on Sunday.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez insisted that during this period, workers “would continue to receive their salaries as usual”

Speaking on Saturday evening, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez insisted that during this period, workers “would continue to receive their salaries as usual.” After the health emergency has passed, workers will have to recuperate the hours that they have missed on a gradual basis, over time. The idea is for workers to continue to receive their salaries from their employers as normal during this two-week period, and then work an extra hour a day, for example, until the lost hours have been recovered.

The aim is to see the number of people on the streets of Spain fall to levels usually seen at the weekend, thus slowing further contagion.

Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), leads a coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos. The latter left-wing group, along with the governments other allied parties, had been pressuring Sánchez for more drastic measures to be introduced, given the worsening situation in Spain as a result of the spread of the coronavirus. The measure was also being demanded by some regional chiefs, including Catalan premier Quim Torra.

Initially, the PSOE was unwilling to restrict circulation further. But after two weeks of lockdown, the number of coronavirus deaths has continued to rise on an almost daily basis – albeit with a momentary fall earlier this week – prompting today’s change of tack.

Companies whose employees are currently working from home will, for now, continue to do so.

On Thursday, a summit of European Union leaders ended in failure, with several northern countries refusing the calls from members that have been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic, such as Spain and Italy, for the creation of “coronabonds” in order to share the financial burden of the crisis. In the wake of that meeting, Sánchez called today for “resounding and brave decisions” from the EU in a bid to overcome the situation.

“Europe has not [...] attracted the virus,” he said on Saturday. “Nor has Spain or any other European partner country. The virus has penetrated Europe following a random path. And just as this catastrophe is putting the whole world to the test, it is putting the European project to the test in a very special way.”

Sánchez sought to differentiate between the great recession that began in 2008, and eventually saw Spain require a bailout, and the current situation

At the summit on Thursday, which was held via videoconference, the Spanish and Italian prime ministers stood their ground against Germany and the Netherlands, which want each country to deal with the crisis with their own resources.

Speaking on Saturday evening, Sánchez sought to differentiate between the great recession that began in 2008, and eventually saw Spain require a bailout, and the current situation. “The response cannot be national, it has to be European and with all resources at the most critical time for the EU since its foundation, when we all need to work together, whether we are Dutch, Spanish or German,” he said.

“Europe is taking a risk, and it cannot fail because even the countries and governments that are most pro-EU, as is the case with Spain, need proof of real commitment,” he said. “Spaniards have always backed the strengthening of the common project. Now it is Europe’s turn.”

He continued saying that “Europe should put a kind of war economy into motion and promote resistance. And then European reconstruction and recovery. It has to do it as soon as possible with measures that back the public debt that many member states are taking on. And it will have to do so afterwards, once the health emergency is over, to reconstruct the economies on the continent, by mobilizing a large amount of resources via a plan that we have called a new Marshall Plan, and which will have to count on the backing of all the common institutions,” he said.

The situation in Spain could not be more critical, after two days of rising death tolls – and that is despite optimistic expectations halfway through the week. The curve of fatalities is not flattening, and Spain is yet to reach the peak of infections.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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