Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a televised address on Saturday evening to announce his latest measures during the coronavirus crisis, on the day that official government figures revealed that there had been more than 20,000 confirmed Covid-19 related fatalities in the country so far.
Among the changes to the current conditions announced by the prime minister today were opportunities for children to leave the home under controlled circumstances from April 27. He also said that he would seek approval in Congress to extend the current state of alarm – which was first implemented on March 14 – to May 9, and that from May 11, there would be a “cautious and progressive” deescalation of confinement measures.
The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader began by paying tribute to the families of coronavirus victims and assuring them that the time would come when those who have died will be honored. “The virus has left a trail of death behind it but also of economic devastation,” he said. “Our health system managed to resist thanks to the dedication of our health workers,” he continued, also expressing his gratitude for the “exemplary” response from residents of Spain, who have been on near-total lockdown for five weeks.
The achievements were, Sánchez warned, “still insufficient and above all else fragile. We cannot put ourselves at risk with premature solutions”
“You are the western citizens who have best complied with the limits on mobility,” he said, stating that because of this, tens of thousands of lives have been saved and the further spread of the virus has been contained. “Each infected person is not infecting another and thanks to that the area of the epidemic is shrinking,” he continued, claiming that Spaniards had achieved “the most difficult part.” The achievements were, he warned, “still insufficient and above all else fragile. We cannot put ourselves at risk with premature solutions,” he continued.
Sánchez went on to cite six steps recommended from the World Health Organization for the return to normality: a controlled transition and the identification of people who are infected with the coronavirus; testing for people who are thought to be infected and the identification of their contacts; strict controls for areas with a higher risk of infection (hospitals and senior residences, for example); preventive measures in the workplace and schools and universities; and full information for the public, who must follow hygiene rules and observe social distancing.
The experts who are advising the government consider that we can alleviate one of the confinement conditionsPedro Sánchez
Sánchez warned that right now, it is not be possible to lift the confinement measures and begin the deescalation phase, and as such the government would seek to extend the state of alarm – which grants the government special powers – until May 9. Sánchez, who heads a coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, and who lacks a working majority in Congress, will need votes from opposition parties if he is to secure support for this extension in Spain’s lower house of parliament.
“The experts who are advising the government consider that we can alleviate one of the confinement conditions,” he continued, explaining that minors would be allowed to leave the home from April 27. “These excursions will be limited and subject to conditions to avoid infections,” he said. He did not offer further details on these conditions, but when questioned by reporters, he suggested that the government would take the Public Health Law as a reference point, which would mean children up to the age of 12 would be allowed out onto the street.
From May 11, Sánchez said, there will be a “cautious and progressive” deescalation of the confinement. “To do this, we will be guided by a series of markers that will warn us of the level of the spread of the virus and of the robustness of our health system so that we know the rate of progress of the pandemic in each region.” According to these parameters, he added, the deescalation measures will progress and if risks are identified they will be halted.
The prime minister also repeated his call for a cross-party agreement aimed at social and economic rebuilding over the coming years. Such a deal, he argued, should include the regions, local councils and social agents. Until now, the main opposition Popular Party (PP) has been unwilling to consider this kind of pact, instead leveling harsh criticism at Sánchez for his government’s handling of the situation. Far-right Vox, meanwhile, which is the third-largest party in Congress, has refused to even take the call from the prime minister’s office to set up a meeting to begin discussions on a pact.
The prime minister concluded his address by saying that “we will recover from this – I’m more clear about this than anything else”
“There is only one path,” Sánchez said on Saturday evening. “Dialogue, consensus and union.” Such an agreement, he added, should “cover four issues.” These were, he said, the rebuilding and strengthening of the health system; measures to assist companies and create jobs; social protection measures; and a common position with regard to negotiations with the European Union, which has so far been unwilling to agree to Spain’s desire for so-called “coronabonds” in a bid to spread debt among the 27 member states.
The prime minister concluded his address by saying: “We will recover from this – I’m more clear about that than anything else.”
Responding to questions from reporters, Sánchez said that the lockdown of the whole of Spain was the right decision, thus avoiding transmission of the coronavirus from the most affected areas to the least. He also said that the deescalation measures may not be the same everywhere. “The realities are different and the level and the impact of the pandemic is different” in each region, he said.
Sánchez ended the press conference thanking the media for its work and the citizens of Spain for their collaboration. “Those families who have seen the loss of a loved one will get the deserved response from us,” he said. “Them and also the heroes who have saved so many lives.” The prime minister also wished those who remain ill a speedy recovery.
English version by Simon Hunter.