Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday that the government intends to extend the state of alarm, which was declared three weeks ago in a bid to slow the coronavirus outbreak, until April 26.
The exceptional measure was approved by the Spanish Cabinet on March 14 and came into effect the following day. It was set to last until March 29 but was extended by Congress for another 15 days until April 11.
The proposed extension of the state of alarm, however, does not apply to the emergency decree announced by Sánchez last Saturday that suspended all non-essential jobs until Thursday April 9. That means that non public-facing sectors will be able to resume activity after Easter.
Health authorities warned that the coronavirus outbreak could worsen if the confinement orders were eased
Sánchez decided to extend the state of alarm after speaking with opposition leaders, and meeting with Committee for the Technical Management of Covid-19 and scientific experts, who have been analyzing the spread of the pandemic. Although the number of coronavirus cases has been stabilizing, health authorities warned on Friday that the situation could worsen if the confinement orders were eased.
Sánchez cannot extend the state of alarm without the approval of Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies. The coalition government led by his Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos does not count on a working majority in Congress, meaning he needs votes from other groups to pass legislation.
On Saturday, the Spanish prime minister spoke with Pablo Casado, the leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), to ask for his party’s support. But Sánchez’s decision last week to tighten the coronavirus lockdown to include all non-essential workers angered Casado, as well as regional leaders who complained that they were not consulted beforehand. Casado accused the Socialist leader of “improvising” and said his way of dealing with the coronavirus crisis was an “explosive cocktail of arrogance, incompetence and lies.”
Casado, however, softened his tone on Saturday. The PP leader said that he had received Sánchez’s call and told the prime minister that “the Popular Party supports contention measures to contain the coronavirus.”
The leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens), Inés Arrimades, also indicated that her party would support an extension of the state of alarm.
But it is less clear whether the Popular Party will back the government’s recent economic and social measures aimed at those affected by the total lockdown.
Meanwhile, the government has also been working on measures to soften the rules of the lockdown, such as implementing the generalized use of face masks among the public to allow people to leave their homes more often and return to some activities. The problem, however, is that there are not enough face masks for everyone in Spain – it is almost impossible to buy them at pharmacies or shops – meaning the measure could only be implemented once distribution is normalized.
Sánchez will contact regional leaders on Sunday to ask them to support extending the state of alarm. Spanish Cabinet will meet on Tuesday to approve the measure, which will is likely to face a congressional vote on Thursday.
English version by Melissa Kitson.