With just hours to go before the Spanish government lifts the state of alarm – an emergency measure implemented on March 14 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus – Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a televised address at lunchtime on Saturday to take stock of the current situation, thanking those who have been involved in battling the pandemic in Spain, and to remember the victims of Covid-19.
Sánchez, who said that today’s would be the last of the weekly public addresses he has been making since the crisis began, began by pointing out that at the beginning of 2020, Spaniards were preparing for a year when events such as the Tokyo Olympics would be celebrated, plans that were interrupted by the arrival of the pandemic.
“We will leave behind the state of alarm and we will enter the new normality,” he said of the lifting of the emergency measures at midnight tonight. “A virus entered our lives a long time ago now. It had crossed borders. No one knew that we were at the outset of the biggest health crisis in the last 100 years. More than 28,000 fellow citizens have lost their lives in our country. Ninety-nine days ago, the priority was to save lives, which is why on March 14 I announced the activation of the state of alarm and our country ground to a halt.”
The Spanish Health Ministry on Friday updated its official death toll from the coronavirus crisis, putting the number of victims who had tested positive for Covid-19 via a PCR test at 28,313. However, Fernando Simón, the head of the Coordination Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies, admitted yesterday that this figure is still far from the 43,000 excess deaths for the same period reported by Momo, a mortality monitoring system run by the Carlos III public health institute.
“No one could have predicted when and how the nightmare would end,” Sánchez continued on Saturday. “We had to put our lives on hold to contain the virus. We had to offer protection to families, above all those in the most disadvantaged situations. We were badly affected, but we resisted. We flattened the curve and we did it together. First came the first measures to ease [the confinement] and then the deescalation [process] arrived.”
Sánchez went on to say that he wanted to take stock of the situation, attributing the state of alarm – a measure he described as “fully constitutional” – to halting infections. “We have benefitted all of the regions,” he said, adding that by some estimations, as many 450,000 lives have been saved across the country thanks to the lockdown.
“A new period is starting now,” he continued. “Our economy is starting to beat. We are in a situation where we can move forward. We can’t drop our guard, not from an institutional point of view either. Each one of us can be a barrier against the virus or an infection. It depends on each of us. While Spain is keeping the virus at bay, the same thing is not happening in other countries in the world.
“The virus could return and plunge us once more into a second wave, and we have to avoid that at all costs,” he said. “We have an individual and collective responsibility. The state is preparing strategic reserves of essential products. We will be vigilant, but we should also be proud of what we have achieved together.”
The prime minister went on to thank “health professionals, the state security forces, the workers who never stopped, agricultural workers, hauliers...” He also thanked teachers, scientists working on a vaccine, children who had to cope with the lockdown “and which sometimes they found difficult to understand,” and seniors, “who remained calm when they felt the threat very close.”
“Thanks to all citizens for the sacrifice and the morale of victory,” he said. “Thanks to all of you for staying at home. It is an honor to be the prime minister of this great country.” The prime minister reminded citizens that a ceremony would be held to honor the victims of the pandemic on July 16, adding that he wanted there to be “another tribute, one that lasts longer: rebuilding our country with unity, above all with the most vulnerable, and not leaving anyone behind in this crisis, as we have done with the approval of guaranteed minimum income.” Sánchez was referring to a new benefits scheme that has been fast-tracked by the coalition government, given the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, and that is aimed at helping hundreds of thousands of families in a vulnerable situation.
“Now is the time for recovery, which must happen as quickly as possible,” he continued. “We need sectors to recover as soon as they can, but they also need to be renewed. We need to recover our economy and regenerate it to make it even more inclusive and sustainable.”
Sánchez also explained that a commission would begin to analyze Spain’s welfare state, with a view to overhauling it. “In the crisis of 2008 we saw that selfishness and division among countries prolonged the ills,” he said, in reference to the financial crisis and subsequent implementation of austerity measures across the European Union. “Ahead of us lies a horizon of reactivating the economy both on a European and state level.
“We need to do things differently compared to the past,” he continued. “Europe must save Europe. I have no doubt that this is what we are going to achieve. The European spirit will get a fresh start.” The prime minister explained that in the coming days the government would share news of the ongoing negotiations with the European Commission about the planned funds that will be distributed to help countries rebuild.
Sánchez also repeated his calls for political unity. “Europe should see us united,” he said. “We spend too much time creating confrontations between ourselves, which are damaging when real problems emerge. Joining forces and cooperating is what is useful.” While the prime minister received the backing of most political parties at the outset of the crisis, when the state of alarm needed to be extended, his coalition government – led by his Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos – has become the target of increasingly aggressive and bitter attacks for its handling of the crisis from opposition groups such as the conservative Popular Party (PP) and far-right Vox. “We cannot accept politics becoming a generator for hatred as something natural. It is not an arena for insults,” he said. “This is not about renouncing the defense of our ideas. the only thing we should renounce is a lack of respect.”
For the first time in several months, the prime minister did not take questions from journalists once he had finished making his address.
English version by Simon Hunter.