As has become customary during the coronavirus crisis, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made his weekly televised address on Saturday afternoon to offer an update on the current situation regarding the pandemic. He announced that he would be requesting a last extension to the state of alarm, this time for a month, and also said that the deescalation process could be completed in half of the country by the beginning of summer.
“This week we have received the first results from the seroprevalence survey,” he began by saying, in reference to testing being carried out among the Spanish population to determine how many people have been infected by the coronavirus. “It has brought three important pieces of data: the infection has affected different territories in very different ways, only 5% of Spaniards have been infected, and third, the death rate is at 1%.”
He also insisted that the state of alarm, which was implemented on March 14 in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, had worked. “The path that we are taking is the only one possible,” he said, in reference to the use of the state of alarm to give the government special powers, including recentralizing healthcare from the regions to Madrid, and introducing the confinement measures that are still in place, and which have been among the strictest in the world.
The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader argued that the scientific facts have shown that a “herd immunity” approach would not have been successful, and defended the need to limit mobility and social contact. “That’s the logic behind the deescalation process,” he explained.
The Socialist Party leader argued that the scientific facts have shown that a “herd immunity” approach would not have been successful
“There were countries that started down this route,” he continued, in reference to a herd immunity approach. “And they had to do a U-turn. If we had opted for this formula, the infection could have reached 30 million countrymen and could have cost the lives of 300,000 people. Or perhaps more, because the health system would have been overwhelmed. We must have these two lessons very present,” he said.
More than half of Spain was in Phase 1 of the government’s plan by the beginning of this week, with more areas due to join them this coming Monday. For now, the Madrid region and the city of Barcelona will remain in Phase 0, albeit with some loosening of restrictions. “The deescalation could be finished in half of the country by the start of summer,” Sánchez added, repeatedly calling for prudence going forward.
The prime minister also explained that his government would request one more extension to the state of alarm. “This extension will be different,” he said. “It is expected to be the last state of alarm. We are going to request in the Congress of Deputies that it lasts for a month.” The current state of alarm in Spain is due to expire on May 24.
The prime minister leads a minority coalition government, with junior partner Unidas Podemos, and needs the support of other groups to pass legislation. In order to extend the state of alarm he requires just a simple majority in the 350-seat chamber – i.e. more yes votes than no votes. However, he has found it increasingly difficult to secure backing ahead of these votes, and has lost the initial support of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), as well as far-right Vox, which is the third-largest group in Congress. It is currently unclear whether he will be able to garner the votes or abstentions required for this last extension from regional parties such as the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).
During his address on Saturday, Sánchez made an appeal for unity. “Unity saves lives, and can also save companies and jobs,” he said. “There is no clash between health and economic priorities.” The prime minister pointed at tourism as an example. “Spain needs tourism, but tourism needs safety, it needs health guarantees. We must overcome the health emergency in order to reactivate tourist activity. [...] Each step will be taken one at a time.”
The prime minister said that the speed of the deescalation “would be dictated by science,” but he committed to shortening the time frames of the phases should the data allow for it. “We are in negotiations with the parliamentary groups,” he said, regarding the extension to the state of alarm. “Logically, we will negotiate the deescalation period. But this is not a political decision, it is a decision based on the criteria of the experts.”
The prime minister also indirectly rejected the idea of approving a wealth tax, as was suggested this week by his coalition partner, Unidas Podemos
What has already been decided, however, is that under the last state of alarm only the Health Ministry will be in charge of the deescalation process in the regions, and not the Interior, Defense and Transport ministries. This has been a key issue for the Basque Country and Catalonia, two regions that have historically sought independence from the rest of Spain, and which have seen their security powers devolved back to Madrid during the coronavirus crisis.
When asked about the growing protests in the Spanish capital against the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Sánchez said that “the most important thing is social distancing. The most important thing is that we do not relax protection measures right now. It doesn’t matter what the demonstrations are about.”
The prime minister also indirectly rejected the idea of approving a wealth tax, as was suggested this week by his coalition partner, Unidas Podemos. When asked about the issue during the press conference, he said that the “road map is the [governing] program that was signed between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos,” and that text doesn’t include a new levy on those with assets of more than €1 million, as Unidas Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias called for this week.
With reporting by Carlos E. Cúe.
English version by Simon Hunter.