CORONAVIRUS

Cabinet to ‘hibernate’ Spanish economy in bid to avoid overload of hospitals

As expected, the government on Sunday approved a stricter lockdown across Spain, with only essential workers permitted to leave their homes from Monday

A healthcare worker wearing a protective face mask and suit transports a patient from an ambulance to the emergency unit at 12 de Octubre hospital during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid, Spain March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
A healthcare worker wearing a protective face mask and suit transports a patient from an ambulance to the emergency unit at 12 de Octubre hospital during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid, Spain March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio PerezSERGIO PEREZ / REUTERS

At an extraordinary meeting on Sunday, the Spanish Cabinet agreed to implement the stricter lockdown measures that were announced the night before by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, in yet another bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus and thus ease the congestion in Spanish intensive care units (ICUs).

The agreed measures will see all non-essential workers also confined to their homes, from March 30 to April 9 inclusive. The move comes in addition to the confinement of most residents in Spain that was put into action two weeks ago under the state of alarm declared by the Cabinet on March 14. Citizens are permitted to leave their homes to purchase food or medication, and under other specific circumstances such as walking their dogs.

The latest figures released by the Health Ministry on Sunday showed that a total of 6,528 people in the country have now died from the coronavirus

The coalition government led by the Socialist Party and junior partner Unidas Podemos said it was “hibernating” the Spanish economy in a bid to avoid the health system becoming overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients.

The new measures are likely to 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 likely 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 latest figures released by the Health Ministry on Sunday showed that a total of 6,528 people in the country have now died from the coronavirus, with 838 new deaths in the last 24 hours. Registered infections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus stand at 78,797, with 4,907 people in intensive care units (ICUs) across Spain. Some 14,709 patients have recovered from the Covid-19 disease and have been released from hospital care. The majority of deaths during the ongoing crisis (5,000) have taken place over the last seven days.

The figure of 838 deaths in the last 24 hours is the highest day-on-day increase seen so far during the ongoing coronavirus crisis in Spain. On Saturday the Health Ministry announced that there had been 832 deaths, and on Friday the figure was 769. Including today’s data, the death rate in Spain from the disease is currently at 8.3%, which is half a point up on yesterday’s figure.

Government spokesperson María Jesús Montero spoke to the press after the Cabinet meeting on Sunday, and confirmed that all non-essential workers would be in lockdown from tomorrow for a two-week period. She said that the measure was to “gain time” in the face of the global pandemic and to lighten the burden on the country’s health system.

“We are closer to flattening the curve,” she said, “but we need an additional effort.” Montero added that it was essential to reduce the mobility of citizens as much as possible from Monday to Friday in order to beat the virus.

“From the government, we are aware of the sacrifice of Spaniards, and that this confinement is putting a lot of families to the test,” Montero said. “It is a necessary situation so that between all of us we can combat the virus.

“Once more we want to convey our hopes in this shared work, as well as our confidence that science will soon find a definitive solution to this problem,” she continued. “This crisis is demonstrating that static approaches will not work.”

Montero also thanked the Chinese government for its help with the acquisition of essential medical resources needed to treat Covid-19 patients. “A total of 1,500 respirators have been purchased, which will arrive this week when the peak of infections will be seen,” she said.

“The sacrifice of all citizens is allowing lives to be saved,” she continued. “I am sure that this additional step will contribute in this direction in order to protect the most vulnerable citizens.”

Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz also spoke at the press conference on Sunday, explaining the details of how this two-week enforced confinement would work for employees. “We are creating a paid and recoverable period of leave,” she said, in reference to the fact that companies will have to pay workers’ salaries in full for the next two weeks, and that employees will have until December 31 to work the hours that they have missed on a gradual basis.

“The measure will not be applied to workers who are telecommuting,” she continued. “Nor to those who are subject to an ERTE [a temporary suspension of employment], or those who are temporarily ineligible to work, or on paternity or maternity leave.

“We are talking about a period of eight working days,” she explained, given that April 9 and 10 are national holidays in most Spanish regions due to the Easter break. “No one is losing any rights,” she said.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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