CORONAVIRUS

Spain’s prime minister announces coronavirus deescalation measures

The transition to a “new normality” will last six to eight weeks, explains Pedro Sánchez, with continuing restrictions on travel to other provinces and Spanish islands

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during today’s press conference.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during today’s press conference.Moncloa / HANDOUT / EFE

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez held a press conference on Tuesday evening to explain his government’s plans for the deescalation of coronavirus confinement measures in Spain. These include ongoing mobility limits until the deescalation is over, potentially at the end of June, meaning people will, for now, still not be able to visit family members or their second residences if they are in another province.

Sánchez began by expressing his sorrow for the loss to Spanish society of the victims of the coronavirus, before explaining how Spain had managed to “flatten the curve of the spread of the epidemic.”

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“The ‘Plan for the Transition Toward a New Normality,’ on which we have been working for nearly a month, was today approved by the Cabinet,” he continued. “We have taken into account the lessons from other places, but adapting them to the diversity and the reality of our country.”

The prime minister stated that the “only objective of this deescalation plan is to activate Spain protecting the health and lives of Spaniards.”

The deescalation would be, he continued, “gradual, asymmetrical – according to regions – and coordinated.” He committed to paying proper tribute to the victims of the coronavirus – officially 23,822, according to the latest figures – when the pandemic is defeated.

“There will be no mobility between provinces or islands until normality returns,” he explained, adding that there would be four phases, but with no set dates so as to be flexible according to the situation.

Each phase of the deescalation plan will last at least two weeks, and in the best-case scenario, the process will last eight weeks in all of Spain

Phase 0, he said, will begin on May 4, and will involve the reopening of small businesses such as restaurants that can offer food to take away, and places that can take bookings. This will include establishments such as hardware stores, government sources cited as an example. Customers would have to call and make an appointment to be able to buy a particular product. Only one customer would be permitted in the premises at a time and would be served by a sales clerk behind a screen or a counter.

This phase will also include the reopening of hairdressers, albeit with employees using the "maximum level of individual protection,” the same sources said, such as masks and gloves.

Individual classes will also be allowed in gyms, as well as individual training for federated sports players and professional leagues.

Phase 1, the prime minister continued, would “allow in each defined territory the partial reopening of small businesses under strict safety measures, but not large shopping malls, where big crowds could form.”

He added that this also included the opening of hotels and tourist apartments, not including common areas. Cafés and restaurants will also be able to open their outdoor sidewalk sections under this phase, at 30% of capacity, but entry inside will not be permitted.

Mobility within a province will also be permitted under Phase 1. This means that if the first phase lasts the time expected, people could begin to visit friends and family within the same province from May 11 at the earliest.

There will be a “timetable for the over-65s” to shop in retail establishments, he added, given that they are an at-risk group from the Covid-19 disease, while the use of masks on public transport “will be highly recommended.”

Religious sites such as churches will be able to open in phase 1, with a limit of 30% of their capacity, the prime minister said.

Phase 2, meanwhile, will see hostelry establishments able to open their dining areas, at a third of their capacity. As for schools, they will not fully reopen until September, but Sánchez explained that they would offer a guarantee that children aged under six can attend classes if their parents have to go to work, and so that students can complete their university application processes and exams.

Sports players will also have fewer restrictions under Phase 2.

“Cultural events will be possible with fewer than 50 people in interior spaces, and for open-air events, there will have to be 400 people or fewer, and they will have to be seated,” Sánchez explained.

Cinemas and theaters will also reopen under Phase 2, with a third of their capacity allowed to enter and assigned seating.

Phase 3 will be “the advanced phase,” he continued, “once the required markers have been met,” with cinemas and theaters allowing 50% of their capacity to enter, for example. “General mobility will be relaxed,” he added, and it will still be recommendable to wear masks on public transport.

Under Phase 3, the capacity of stores and other public-facing businesses will be limited to 50%, with an inter-personal distance of two meters. Restrictions will be further relaxed for bars and restaurants.

Each phase will last at least two weeks, he said, which is the incubation period of the coronavirus, and in the best-case scenario, the process will last eight weeks in all of Spain.

“By the end of June, as a country we will be in the new normality if the evolution of the epidemic is under control in all territories,” he said. “This weekend individual physical activity [for adults] will be allowed, as will walks. On May 4, all territories will enter Phase 0, and given the low number of infections and if the progress allows for it, Formentera, the Balearics, Gomera, El Hierro and Graciosa in the Canary Islands will enter Phase 1 shortly after.

Mobility within a province will be permitted under Phase 1, which will begin May 11 at the earliest

“On May 11, all of the provinces that meet the requisites will enter Phase 1, and the Health Ministry will evaluate the markers on a two-weekly basis.

“There is no closed and uniform calendar, and we will advance in each place as quickly as the epidemic permits,” he said. “When we conclude the deescalation we can say that each province has reached a situation of new normality until a vaccine arrives.”

Home-working will be preferable until at least reaching Phase 3, he added.

The markers the prime minister referred to will be “the capacity of the country’s health systems, the epidemiological situation in each area, protection measures in the workplace, business and public transport, and mobility and socioeconomic data.” These markers would be public, he added, “and transparent.”

The prime minister made clear that it would be the central Health Ministry, and not Spain’s regional governments, who would be deciding on the speed of deescalation in each province, despite the latter calling for such powers. “If we have to choose between prudence and risk, we opt for prudence,” he stated.

The virus, the prime minister said, “has not gone anywhere. It is still there lurking. With our behavior, we can save lives. We can protect our lives and help to rebuild our country. That is, right now, the best kind of patriotism.”

The four rules of the deescalation, Sánchez explained, were “a gradual, asymmetrical, coordinated and adaptable approach.” “The adaptability is because we don’t know what we are facing. Science still doesn’t know a lot of things about this virus. As such, we are facing something that we don’t know, and that is why we have to be cautious.”

Movement between provinces had to be restricted, Sánchez explained, to avoid the spread of the virus from area to area. “Imagine that one province is in Phase 1 and another in Phase 3,” he said. “Mobility cannot be permitted to go and meet with a relative or friend.” Mobility between provinces would return “when we reach the phase of the new normality,” he added – i.e. when the deescalation is over.

Sánchez also explained that another two-week extension to the state of alarm that was implemented on March 14 would be requested in Congress. The current period is due to expire on May 9.

With reporting by Carlos E. Cué, Javier Salvatierra and Isabel Valdés.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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