Spanish Cabinet approves decree for ‘new normality’ after coronavirus state of alarm ends

The new rules, which will be in place until the government considers that the crisis is over, include the obligatory use of face masks and prevention measures in the workplace

Sidewalk cafés in Rambla del Poblenou in Barcelona.
Sidewalk cafés in Rambla del Poblenou in Barcelona.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI (EL PAÍS)

The Spanish Cabinet on Tuesday approved a decree for the “new normality,” setting out the coronavirus safety measures that will be in place once the state of alarm comes to an end on June 21.

At a government press conference on Tuesday, Health Minister Salvador Illa announced that the decree will be in place until the government declares “that the crisis is over,” or in other words, until the health epidemic is under control or there is an effective treatment or vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The decree includes the obligatory use of face masks in closed public spaces where a 1.5 meter safe distance cannot be observed

“Every one of us is key in this pandemic. We cannot let our guard down. Until we have a vaccine, we have to maintain the precautions,” added the government’s spokesperson and finance minister, María Jesús Montero. “We cannot act lightly, thinking that everything is over and we are safe,” she said on Tuesday.

The decree includes the obligatory use of face masks in closed public spaces where a 1.5-meter safe distance cannot be observed, and also fines of up to €100 for people who are not wearing them. The decree also leaves open the possibility of regulating their use in the open air. However, the application of the restrictions and the measures will fall to regional authorities, who regain control of the deescalation process under Phase 3, the final stage of the central government’s coronavirus deescalation process.

“In the new normality there is no central control,” said Illa. “Regions in Phase 3 already have the power to lift the state of alarm when they consider it opportune.”

The decree sets out that authority over care homes, which have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, will have to be constantly coordinated with their respective regional health authorities.

The legislation sets out hygiene and prevention measures to reduce the risk of contagion in the workplace, schools, hotels and stores, and specifies the requirements for airlines and other transport companies to hold the details of all passengers for a month including where they sat so that they can be identified in the case of a positive coronavirus case being confirmed.

The decree will also require the regions to offer guarantees of hospital bed capacity and the ability to carry out PCR tests to detect coronavirus cases. According to a draft of the text, the health system “must have in place, or have access to, or have the capacity to, install between 1.5 and two intensive care beds for every 10,000 inhabitants, and between 37 and 40 beds for the seriously ill for every 10,000 inhabitants, in a maximum time frame of five days.”

Deal with Ciudadanos

The center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) said on Tuesday that it had reached a deal to support the decree for the new normality.

“We have participated in the creation of this royal decree with the intention of improving it. We have established that its goal must also be to prevent future outbreaks, social distancing of 1.5 meters, we wanted to encourage home working, and for the criteria of the regions to be taken into account to that there are no privileges when it comes to restarting sports competitions,” said Ciudadanos spokesperson Edmundo Bal in a video shared on social media.

“What have the others done? They have complained that there was no Plan B because they have not contributed anything,” he added, apparently in reference to the Popular Party (PP) and far-right Vox, which have refused to negotiate with the government and have been highly critical of its management of the crisis.

The deal with Ciudadanos saw the safe distance reduced from two meters to 1.5 meters, something that will be important for the hostelry sector and customer-facing businesses in general, given that it will allow for capacity to be increased in establishments.

Support for the decree

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) heads a minority coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, meaning he needs the support of other groups in the Congress of Deputies to pass key legislation.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) announced on Monday that it would also support the decree while the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) is expected to confirm its position Tuesday evening. This may give Sánchez the same absolute majority that voted in favor of the sixth and final extension of the state of alarm last week.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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