CORONAVIRUS

Spanish PM: Face masks will be obligatory on public transportation from Monday

At a press conference on Saturday, Pedro Sánchez explained the next steps the government will take to deal with the ongoing coronavirus crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during Saturday’s press conference.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during Saturday’s press conference.EFE

On the day that confinement measures in Spain were lifted to allow citizens out for exercise, after 48 days of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a televised address on Saturday afternoon from La Moncloa palace. Among the announcements that the Socialist Party (PSOE) politician made was that from May 4, it will be obligatory to wear masks on public transportation in Spain.

Sánchez added that mobility would be recovered “bit by bit” as well as other elements of social activity

The prime minister began by referring to the relaxation of confinement measures, which began last weekend when children under 14 were allowed out for walks of one hour a day, and were widened today to allow adults out for strolls or sporting activities such as running or cycling.

“These are small comforts that are coming in doses, and may appear insufficient, but are important,” he said. Sánchez added that mobility would be recovered “bit by bit” as well as other elements of social activity. He stressed that social responsibility would be a key element of the deescalation.

In reference to the number of official victims from the coronavirus, which today topped 25,000 in Spain, the prime minister said that the “pain continues to be unbearable.”

The prime minister explained that from Monday restaurants will be able to take orders by phone or over the internet

He then went on to explain that masks will be obligatory from Monday on public transportation, and that six million face coverings would be distributed in transportation hubs. Another seven million would be distributed by Spanish municipalities, and a further 1.5 million via social institutions, he continued.

As for businesses, the prime minister explained that from Monday restaurants will be able to take orders by phone or over the internet, and that customers will be allowed to collect the food themselves. The elderly and those in vulnerable situations will be given priority.

Other establishments, Sánchez continued, such as bookshops, hardware stores or auto repair shops, will be able to accept customers who make an appointment, with one customer permitted per employee, and special timetables for seniors.

As had previously been announced, Sánchez confirmed that the Spanish islands of Formentera, El Hierro, La Graciosa and La Gomera would move from the current Phase 0 of the deescalation plan directly to Phase 1 on Monday, given the low levels of coronavirus patients and infections in these areas. This will allow social contact in small groups among people without underlying conditions or symptoms. Markets, terrace bars, libraries and outdoor cultural events in these areas will be permitted, albeit with limits on capacity, among other restrictions.

“We are starting out with a lot of uncertainty,” the prime minister said. “And with some certainties: confinement was the most robust route to take, that hygiene was the best thing to halt contagion, and that total confinement could not continue.” He added: “It is possible that we are making mistakes. We are taking decisions that no one has taken before.”

Sánchez added that Madrid was responding to the requests of Spain’s regional governments, and was going to approve a special fund of €16 billion

The prime minister said that he will request an extension to the current state of alarm, which was implemented on March 14 to give the government extra powers to deal with the crisis, and has been extended by Congress on a two-weekly basis since then. Sánchez will, however, need the support of other parties if he is to secure another extension, and votes in favor from opposition groups such as the conservative Popular Party (PP) and far-right Vox are far from guaranteed.

Sánchez added that Madrid was responding to the requests of Spain’s regional governments, and was going to approve a special fund of €16 billion. “This is so that no regions are left behind, independently of the impact that the pandemic has had,” he explained. Of this total, he added, €10 billion will go on healthcare, €1 billion on social spending, and €5 billion to alleviate the fall in economic activity.

“There are four years ahead of us of this political term for the social and economic reconstruction of our country,” Sánchez said, in reference to the coalition government that he formed with junior partner Unidas Podemos earlier this year, after two inconclusive general elections in 2019. He added that the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis was the “biggest mobilization of resources in the history of [Spanish] democracy,” and that the “sustained and solid growth that we were seeing before the epidemic will be interrupted and national wealth will be reduced by more than 9%.”

“There is no Plan B,” warned Sánchez, in reference to the extension of the state of alarm. “There is no alternative,” he said, putting pressure on the political opposition to support a new extension, pointing out that the state of alarm allows for the government to provide financial support to those who need it, and adopt measures such as deferrals of rent payments and the suspension of employment under a procedure known in Spanish as an ERTE.

The prime minister warned the opposition that if they rejected an extension, they would be responsible for the consequences of an end to the confinement measures, given that the government would no longer have the legal means to impose them.

The prime minister stated that for the crisis to be overcome, three foundations would be necessary: the support of the European Union, a plan for social and economic reconstruction, and unity. “Whoever is governing, a major pact, a grand alliance will be needed,” he said, in a reference to the fierce opposition to, and criticism leveled at, the government’s handling of the crisis so far by other political groups.

Sánchez also said that he was “convinced that during the coming months, until we find a therapeutic remedy, a vaccine, we will have new outbreaks. What we need is for these upsurges not to put stress on our national health system. That is why it is very important not to drop our guard," he said.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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