Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez held a press conference on Saturday afternoon to discuss the latest measures being taken by his government during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, announcing, among other things, that the tourist sector should start to prepare for the upcoming summer season and that Spain’s top-flight La Liga soccer league would be restarting games at the beginning of next month.
“The hardest part is over,” the Socialist Party (PSOE) leader said about the Covid-19 epidemic, which has left more than 28,000 dead in Spain according to official figures. “We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Now the epicenter has moved to other parts of the planet, as is happening, for example, on the American continent. The response of the Spanish people has been formidable. Everyone has fulfilled their mission and they came together to deal with the epidemic.”
“The first achievement: to flatten the curve,” he continued. “The second achievement: when those who have recovered exceed new infections. The third achievement will be to reduce the spread of the virus as much as possible. Yesterday the reproduction rate was 0.20. Today we can say that we have achieved this not by luck, but with determination. We have taken the correct path. The Spanish people have forced the virus to retreat.”
Sánchez pointed to the fact that by Monday, the entire country will be in Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the government’s deescalation plan, with the last parts of the country – such as the Madrid region and Barcelona city – finally leaving the first stage, Phase 0. “From Monday, we will be able to see family and friends once more, businesses will open and the streets will recover their vibrancy.” But he also struck a note of caution. “We are a step from victory, but the virus is still lurking. It’s essential that we don’t relax.
“We are in the deescalation process, but we are still in a health emergency,” he continued. “We must always have in mind what the health authorities are telling us. We must act prudently and responsibly. Until a vaccine arrives everything will depend on each one of us. A new outbreak is far from impossible. There is a high percentage that there will be a new outbreak. Prudence must be the key to how we proceed.”
The prime minister said that he understood people’s desire to move forward as fast as possible, but he warned that “there is still around a month” of the deescalation process to go. “It will still be necessary to maintain some limitations on mobility, as will as limits to meetings. These will be for very few weeks, but this will still be necessary,” he said.
Spain’s coronavirus lockdown measures have been among the strictest in the world, and many citizens are still severely limited as to when and how they can leave their homes under the current phases in place.
“Spain has done what it had to do, and new horizons are now opening up for all of us,” he continued. “The time has come for many everyday activities to return. From June 8, La Liga will return,” he said, in reference to the hugely popular top-flight soccer league. The 11 matches that are left to play in the current season will be played behind closed doors.
The prime minister encouraged Spaniards to start planning their vacations, and said that from July, foreign tourism would return to Spain ‘in safe conditions’
He also stressed that many museums and theaters would be reopening too under the next phases of deescalation. “We must begin to restart economic activity,” he continued. “Some of these sectors are hostelry and tourism, which have a fundamental role in the creation of employment. The moment has arrived. I’m announcing to you that there will be a tourist season this year and I invite all tourist establishments to start to prepare from today to restart their activity in a few days from now.”
The prime minister encouraged Spaniards to start planning their vacations, and said that from July, foreign tourism would return to Spain “in safe conditions.” He pointed to the fact that Spain usually receives more than 80 million visitors a year from overseas. “From now, foreign tourists can plan their vacations in our country," he added.
“We will guarantee that tourists will not run any risks and they will not bring us any risks,” he continued. “There will be no opposing forces between health and business. Spanish tourism will now have two hallmarks: environmental sustainability and health safety,” he stated.
Sánchez also focused on the measures his coalition government is preparing for the economy. “Next week the Cabinet will approve a guaranteed minimum income. It will be a permanent scheme. It will be paid for by the Social Security system and will benefit nearly 850,000 households.”
The coalition government had been planning to introduce the scheme since before the coronavirus crisis, in a bid to assist the most at-risk members of Spanish society. However, the government has since made clear that the scheme will also now serve to help those households that have been left without income due to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic and lockdown.
“Between all of us, we have stopped the worst calamity of the century,” he continued. Ahead of us is the challenge of rebuilding our country. From Tuesday, the government will approve the formal declaration of an official period of mourning. The mourning will last for 10 days. Flags will fly at half mast.”
Sánchez went on to explain that an official ceremony, presided by Spain’s King Felipe VI, would also take place to remember the victims of the coronavirus in Spain. “The dead deserve our remembrance,” he said. “But also our mutual understanding. We have to live together in the same country that they built.”
Row over EH Bildu
The PSOE leader was speaking on Saturday after a particularly difficult week for his coalition government, which he heads with the support of junior partner Unidas Podemos. The government once again had to negotiate with other parties in order to ensure its extension to the state of alarm passed a vote in the Congress of Deputies on Wednesday, eventually securing support for another two weeks of the extraordinary measures that were first implemented on March 14.
But the executive was plunged into chaos later on that evening, after it emerged that the PSOE and Unidas Podemos had signed a deal with Basque radical left party EH Bildu in exchange for the group’s abstention at the vote. Among other commitments, the deal included the total repeal of a 2012 labor reform that, among other measures, made it cheaper for companies to fire workers. The commitment to overturn the legislation was included in the governing deal signed by the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, but its inclusion in an agreement with EH Bildu caused widespread outrage among the political opposition – not least given the fact that the nationalist party has refused to condemn the campaign of violence carried out by Basque terrorist group ETA.
In line with the arguments offered in previous days by senior PSOE figures, the prime minister sought to downplay the deal and explained that it had been signed in order to ensure the state of alarm stayed in place. He also blamed the main opposition Popular Party (PP) for voting against the extension. “All of this could have been avoided if the PP had abstained or voted in favor,” he argued.
Asked by journalists about protests organized today across Spain by the far-right Vox party, in order to demand that the government resign over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, Sánchez said he “had little to say,” adding that “protests are a constitutional right” and that the demonstrators “are free to mobilize as they see fit, provided that they respect the criteria of health authorities.”
English version by Simon Hunter.