The Spanish government has decided to implement never-before-seen measures in terms of the country’s healthcare system, in a bid to combat the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday night, a day after the Cabinet approved a state of alarm that has confined Spaniards to their homes, Health Minister Salvador Illa announced that private health providers would be temporarily taken over and put at the disposition of the national healthcare system.
Regional health chiefs across Spain will, he added, have “all the means” necessary from the private system in order to deal with the epidemic. Illa added that “all public and private areas” will be available for conversion into new spaces to attend to patients.
The health minister announced that the contracts of fourth-year medical students who are carrying out residencies will see their contracts extended
According to the latest figures, 294 people have so far died in Spain from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and there are 7,900 confirmed infections. A total of 517 people have recovered and have been released from hospital, while there are currently 382 patients in intensive care.
Also on Sunday, the health minister announced that fourth-year medical students who are carrying out residencies will see their contracts extended. Rotations among medical staff have been suspended, and physicians who have not yet completed their specialty after passing their medical resident tests can now be hired. All of these measures are aimed at easing the pressure on the health system due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a bid to combat shortages, the government also announced on Sunday that any company that is holding or that can manufacture materials for making diagnoses, protective masks and glasses, gloves and other medical or pharmaceutical products, must make the authorities aware of this in 48 hours, under the threat of fines should they fail to do so.
José Luis Ábalos, the transport minister, explained that public transport by air, sea and freeway would be reduced by 50%
The third and final measure announced on Sunday relates to the supply of information on the progress of the epidemic. Until now Spain’s regions – who are in charge of their own healthcare systems – have been sending updated figures on infections and deaths to the central government when they considered it convenient to do so, creating certain confusion at times during the crisis so far. From now on, Illa said on Sunday night, the data will be offered just once a day, only by the Health Ministry, at mid-morning.
Coordination with Europe, for an eventual closure of borders, is underwayInterior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska
Also speaking at the press conference were the other ministers who will be in charge during the state of alarm, which went into force on Saturday night and will be in place for 15 days – with the chance of extension on approval by the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska explained that “coordination with Europe, for an eventual closure of borders, is underway. Tomorrow there will be a meeting via video conference of interior ministers and we will speak about the question of borders. But all of the measures necessary will be taken at the appropriate time, in coordination with Europe,” he said.
José Luis Ábalos, the transport minister, explained that public transport by air, sea and freeway would be reduced by 50%. In the case of Renfe state rail services, the reduction will be as much as 85%. “Such a drastic reduction of mobility will involve inconveniences and sacrifices, but the reduction of the risk needs a commitment from all of us,” the minister warned.
Regional governments will be able to introduce the reduction that they deem appropriate in regional and urban public transport systems, as long as they “guarantee that citizens can access their places of work and basic services.”
The defense minister, Margarita Robles, announced that a deal would be reached with all Spain’s regions in order to attend to the homeless during the state of alert, in order to guarantee their access to food.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese prime minister, António Costa, announced on Sunday that his government was putting “restrictions” into place at the land border between his country and Spain, Javier Martín Del Barrio reports. From Monday onward, and for a whole month, no one will be allowed to cross into the neighboring country for tourism purposes. Cargo deliveries and cross-border workers will, however, still be able to enter Portugal from Spain. The measures are aimed at protecting Portuguese citizens from the spread of the coronavirus, although there have been no deaths from Covid-19 yet registered there.
The coronavirus crisis is causing an economic slowdown in Spain, the consequences of which are difficult to predict. Economic experts are calling on the government to take urgent measures in order avoid economic collapse and to halt a wave of mass sackings. The majority of economists agree that the executive needs to guarantee liquidity in the system, via programs of guarantees, bonds or loans, so that viable companies can survive this quarter. They are also calling for a package of measures for the labor market to preserve jobs and minimize the impact on employment.
English version by Simon Hunter.