The Spanish army has requested international assistance to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which is now expanding at a faster rate than in Italy. Although the country has been in lockdown for over a week, the number of cases has soared in recent days, with 514 deaths in just 24 hours.
On Tuesday, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) “received a request for international assistance from the Armed Forces of Spain in their response to the global pandemic.”
“The Armed Forces of Spain are acting in favor of civil population to mitigate the virus spread,” said the EADRCC in a press release. “In order to prevent the spread of the virus in the military units of the Armed Forces of Spain and in the civil population, international partners are asked to provide assistance to the Ministry of Defense of Spain in supplying humanitarian assistance.”
In Madrid, the government on Tuesday announced new measures to fight the coronavirus. Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Health Minister Salvador Illa and Finance Minister María Jesús Montero gave a virtual news conference to explain what the government’s next steps are going to be.
On a day when coronavirus-related deaths reached 2,696 and infections pushed past 40,000, Illa warned that the worst has yet to pass.
“This week is being tough, very tough. During this phase we are going to reach the peak of the epidemic, and it is very tough to keep up the drastic measures that we are requesting to extend until April 12,” he said, alluding to the executive’s decision to prolong the nationwide confinement measures that went into effect after the government declared a state of alarm on March 13. The decision to extend the lockdown was approved by the Cabinet today and will be debated in Congress on Wednesday.
Illa acknowledged that the Madrid region is bearing the brunt of the pandemic, accounting for over 1,500 deaths. With a healthcare system overwhelmed by the rate of infection, the city’s premier exhibition center, Ifema, has been converted into a massive field hospital and a local ice rink is now being used as a makeshift morgue.
“Right now we need to show solidarity with Madrid. The government has deployed medical resources from other parts of Spain, redoubled the acquisition of certain products such as ventilators, and activated the country’s capacity to produce these items,” said Illa.
Regarding media reports of dead bodies found at senior homes, the health minister said that a special task force has been created to follow up on the situation.
The Cabinet has also agreed to lift the ban on flights from Italy, but only for Spanish citizens and residents of Spain. Anyone flying in from an Italian airport will have to undergo quarantine.
Government spokesperson María Jesús Montero, who is also the finance minister, listed the upcoming measures to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis. Montero said that €300 million from an extraordinary fund will be distributed among regional governments to shore up social benefits. The money is aimed at helping dependent individuals, single-parent households and other particularly vulnerable groups.
“We will take the necessary steps to ensure that nobody is left behind,” said Montero. “Our country is responding, but the response needs to be global or it will not be at all.”
Montero also said that the Cabinet has approved the conditions to release the first €20 billion tranche of a €100 billion guarantee scheme to bring liquidity to small and medium businesses that have been experiencing a significant drop in revenues since much of the economy ground to a halt. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez last week announced a €200 billion package that included the liquidity scheme, tax deferrals and other forms of economic relief for struggling households and businesses.
“Everyone is making a titanic effort, especially our healthcare professionals,” she said. “I hope this crisis is resolved as soon as possible, but it is going to change our values scale, and make us more aware of the welfare state.”
English version by Susana Urra.