CORONAVIRUS

Regional premiers call on Spanish PM to allow citizens to exercise in the open air

During a conference call with the regions’ chiefs, Pedro Sánchez requested a strengthening of primary care systems ahead of the deescalation of the coronavirus lockdown

Pedro Sánchez and Health Minister Salvador Illa during the conference call on Sunday.
Pedro Sánchez and Health Minister Salvador Illa during the conference call on Sunday.Pool Efe / GTRES

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called on the country’s regional premiers to “strengthen” their primary healthcare networks, given the key role they will play in the deescalation of coronavirus lockdown measures. The region’s chiefs, meanwhile, called for relaxation of the current confinement conditions, including allowing adults out onto the street to exercise.

“I have information that many of you are already strengthening primary healthcare, but I have to say to you that from the point of view of the Spanish government, it will be one of the fundamental elements to define and decide on the kind of deescalation that is carried out in each of the regions,” the Socialist Party (PSOE) chief said, during today’s conference call with regional leaders, the sixth of these meetings he has held since the state of alarm was implemented on March 14.

The prime minister laid out the four objectives that will be pursued in the battle against the Covid-19 disease

The Scientific Committee that is advising the government during the pandemic has conveyed to Sánchez the need to strengthen diagnostic services and to monitor all cases, even mild ones, at healthcare centers.

During today’s video meeting, the prime minister laid out the four objectives that will be pursued in the battle against the Covid-19 disease. First, enable early detection and the ability to diagnose cases in primary healthcare centers; second, ensure that these cases are put into isolation; third, guarantee that information systems will permit widespread monitoring of these cases; and fourth, guarantee the identification and monitoring of the contacts of these cases.

“We are not just going to have to look at parameters and data that have become habitual over these last weeks of the state of alarm,” the prime minister said, “such as the number of new confirmed cases, the number of hospitalized patients, the number of deaths and recoveries, and the number of people in intensive care units. But also we will have to incorporate early detection of cases that we could have in each of the areas into our dashboard so that we can evaluate any escalation that we might need to implement in each region.”

Spain’s regions will count on €14 billion in extra funding to deal with the coronavirus crisis, which in the last 24 hours has caused 410 fatalities in Spain, the lowest figure since March 22. The official number of victims from the pandemic in the country so far stands at 20,453.

Several premiers coincided in calling for the progressive deescalation of confinement measures in place

Sánchez has committed to delivering this cash despite the worsening economic situation due to the widespread lockdown that has been in place for more than five weeks, and is also working to advance the regions the funds that they are due later in the year under Spain’s financing system.

At today’s meeting, several premiers coincided in calling for the progressive deescalation of confinement measures in place, with a number of the regional chiefs suggesting that citizens be allowed out of their homes to take exercise in the open air over the next few weeks. Sánchez committed to sharing the strategies that will be implemented over the coming weeks with the regions, and said that the process will not be based so much on the number of infected citizens in each area, but rather depend on the healthcare capacites and the supply of protective equipment to citizens.

“We are going to need time, weeks, on the slow path to deescalation,” said the prime minister, calling for prudence.

Sánchez also pointed out to the premiers that a number of regions are still not passing on all of the data about the impact of the coronavirus to the central Health Ministry, and called on the regional chiefs not to let their guard down. “A second wave [of infections] would be very difficult for healthcare staff,” he said.

In a televised address on Saturday evening, Sánchez announced that he would seek approval in Congress to extend the state of alarm once more, until May 9. He also said that children would be able to leave the home under controlled circumstances from April 27 onward.

Catalan premier Quim Torra insisted that the regional powers that have been centralized under the state of alarm be returned to his government

In the four-hour meeting on Sunday, however, he did not go into detail as to how these new permissions for children would work. Health Minister Salvador Illa said after the video conference that the measures would be confirmed at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

As at other meetings, Catalan regional premier Quim Torra, a hardline supporter of independence for Catalonia, insisted that the regional powers that have been centralized under the state of alarm be returned to his government during the deescalation of the confinement. Torra insisted that the relaxation of the conditions currently in place “should be gradual” and be based on the “specific” responses that each region requires, “and adapted to their realities.”

The Catalan regional government also wants young people up to the age of 18 to be able to leave their homes from April 27 onward, and not just the under-12s, as the Spanish government is reported to be considering.

The regional premier of Valencia, Ximo Puig, called for the need for all social and political forces in Spain to reach a cross-party deal on the rebuilding of the country after the crisis is over. The PSOE politician called for “an end to partisanship” and for politicians to “look at the country for the benefit of the citizens.” “Doing a deal is not a betrayal,” he said, adding that it would involve a “clear improvement in the democratic quality” of the country and the reinforcement of its institutions at a time like the present.

The immense majority of Spanish society is silently shouting for unity
Castilla-La Mancha premier, Emiliano García-Page

The premier of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page, also of the PSOE, called for a way forward with the coordination of the central government and dialogue between the regions themselves. “It is evident [...] that decisions that are taken on this issue by, for example, Madrid, will greatly affect my region and vice versa,” García-Page said, referring to the fact that these two regions are neighbors. He also focused on the need for a national deal. “The immense majority of Spanish society is silently shouting for unity,” he argued.

On Monday, the prime minister is due to hold a video call with the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, in order to seek support for such a cross-party pact. Casado, however, has been highly critical of the government’s handling of the crisis and it is far from clear whether the PP would back such a deal. There has been little direct contact between Sánchez and Casado since the crisis began.

The third-biggest group in Congress, far-right Vox, has completely ruled out such talks with the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government, and has refused to even take the phone call to arrange a meeting.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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