Spanish prime minister calls for caution ahead of next deescalation phase

“The virus has not disappeared,” warns Pedro Sánchez, as parts of Spain prepare for further relaxation of confinement measures on Monday

Pedro Sánchez during Saturday's press conference.
Pedro Sánchez during Saturday's press conference.- (EFE)
El País

With more than half of Spain’s residents due to enter Phase 1 of the government’s coronavirus deescalation plan on Monday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a televised address on Saturday to discuss the ongoing crisis and also to call for caution among citizens when confinement conditions are relaxed in some areas during the coming week.

We have saved lives, but we have also lost many others. Each fatality hurts us. These lives that we have lost weigh heavily on us
Prime Minister Sánchez

“In these two months, Spain has demonstrated many things, its huge strengths,” he began by saying. “What has set it apart has been the magnificent response of the people, thanks to exceptional responsibility and social discipline. The state of alarm works and it is proving to be very efficient,” he said, in reference to the conditions imposed by the government on March 14, when confinement across Spain began.

“In these eight weeks, Spain has proved itself to be a humane community,” the prime minister continued. “All of society has acted like a community joined together by bonds of affection and care. We have saved lives, but we have also lost many others. Each fatality hurts us. These lives that we have lost weigh heavily on us.”

Sánchez went on to address a measure that the main opposition Popular Party (PP) has been calling for for some time: a period of national mourning. “Society as a whole should mourn,” he said. “As such, when the whole country is at least in Phase 1 [of the deescalation process] we will approve an official period of mourning. Flags will fly at half mast when mobility returns to the streets. We will hold a major event [to honor the victims], which will be presided over by the king of Spain.”

The deescalation will be guided by these principles of scientific advice and prudence
PM Sánchez

The Socialist Party (PSOE) prime minister went on to reiterate that the deescalation process “will be asymmetrical, gradual and coordinated by the government and co-governed by the regions. The virus does not end at the provincial borders. The deescalation will be guided by these principles of scientific advice and prudence. That is what the [World Health Organization] has recommended.

“More than half of the Spanish population will get back a major part of their lives,” he said. “But the virus has not disappeared. The fight will continue, and will not end until there is a vaccine.” He also called on those who are about to enter Phase 1 of the plan not to let down their guards. “In the meantime, we will have to live alongside the virus, which is why the healthcare system must be reinforced and its capacities strengthened,” he continued. “All of this will count for little without the responsible efforts of the people.”

Sánchez went on to discuss the other crises now facing Spain: “The social and economic ones. Until now, the efforts of the government have been focused on reducing the impact on employment and helping those who found themselves in a situation of helplessness. Our country is suffering levels of destruction of employment similar to those seen in the Great Recession. Rebuilding means driving the creation of employment as soon as possible. We can achieve this together.”

The prime minister, who heads a coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, once again called on the European Union to play its part to support member states who have suffered due to the coronavirus crisis.

“We have a tough job ahead of us, but I am convinced that we will emerge from this stronger,” he said. “We need to protect the families who have been left without an upkeep, young people, the self-employed. We need to strengthen our public services, which are what have saved us all as a community. The pandemic has reminded all of us that we are very fragile. Part of Spain is protected, but there are many more people who are not sleeping easily, who don’t know what is going to happen with their jobs. All of the administrations have to take care of these people.”

The prime minister confirmed that people will be able to travel to their second residences if they are in the same province

The prime minister went on to say that the most vulnerable would be supported by the government’s planned guaranteed minimum income scheme, which will seek to benefit around a million households – some three million people – and will be means tested according to the type of family, the number of children in the household, and the family unit’s level of poverty.

Responding to questions from reporters, the prime minister also confirmed that under Phase 1 of the deescalation plan, residents of Spain will be able to travel to their second residences and stay in hotels provided that they are within the same province.

According to the latest figures released by the Health Ministry on Saturday, the total number of fatalities in Spain related to the Covid-19 disease now stand at 26,478, with 223,578 confirmed infections and 133,952 patients who have recovered and have been discharged from hospital.

New extension to state of alarm

The government will request a further extension to the state of alarm, which was first implemented on March 14 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus. “The state of alarm is not a political instrument, it is a necessity,” said Pedro Sánchez on Saturday during his press conference.

Sánchez secured support for the fourth two-week extension to the state of alarm in Congress on Wednesday, but ahead of the debate and vote in Spain’s lower house of parliament it was unclear whether he could count on the votes he needed from other parties to extend the measure further.

During the debate, at which he was eventually successful, he was warned by all opposition groups that the government should come up with a “plan B” that would allow for an alternative legal framework that would allow the confinement to continue, but without using the exceptional measure.

Sánchez admitted that the state of alarm should be limited in time, but argued that it was still necessary given that the government's four-stage deescalation plan requires restrictions on fundamental rights such as movement and assembly.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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