CORONAVIRUS

Spain holds ceremony in honor of the victims of the coronavirus pandemic

King Felipe VI presided over the event on Thursday, which also paid tribute to the essential workers on the frontline of the health crisis

Spain's King Felipe, Queen Letizia and Princess Leonor place flowers during the state tribute to coronavirus victims.
Spain's King Felipe, Queen Letizia and Princess Leonor place flowers during the state tribute to coronavirus victims.SERGIO PEREZ / Reuters

Spain’s King Felipe VI on Thursday presided over an official state tribute to the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic and essential workers on the frontline of the crisis. During the ceremony, held in the Plaza de la Armería of Madrid’s Royal Palace, the monarch praised the Spanish people’s spirit of resistance and unity during the epidemic, which has left an official death toll of 28,413 victims in Spain.

“It has been very, very difficult,” said King Felipe. “Many people were alone, many others suffering from the disease [...] and adding to this situation have been the logical feelings of fear, concern about work, fatigue and uncertainty. And yet, in these months, our society has provided a lesson of immense courage. Spain has shown its best spirit. With the passing of time, we will remember that we were an example of civic responsibility, maturity, resistance and commitment to others.”

This, he added, showed that the Spanish people would put all their effort and ability into “looking toward the future with confidence and hope, from a position of respect and mutual understanding.”

Felipe’s speech brought an end to the ceremony, which was attended by more than 400 people, including all the members of government, the leaders of the top state institutions, and every one of Spain’s 17 regional premiers, an occurrence that has not been seen for years. There were also family members of the victims and representatives of a long list of social collectives and professionals who worked throughout the lockdown, from healthcare workers and members of the military, to supermarket cashiers, cleaners and security guards.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adanom Ghebreyesus and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, were among the international leaders who also attended the event.

The ceremony’s stark setting – rows of chairs in concentric circles in an immense stone-floored square – took away from the emotional impact of the tribute, but it was given a more human touch by Hernando Calleja, the brother of journalist José María Calleja, who died from Covid-19 in April, and Ana López, a supervising nurse at the emergency ward of the Vall d’Hebron hospital in Barcelona.

After naming some of the more well-known victims of the pandemic – including actress Lucía Bosé, former minister Enrique Múgica, writer Luis Sepúlveda – Calleja paid homage to the thousands of anonymous victims, saying the best tribute to them would be to “maintain their memory and build a country that they would have wanted to share.”

López, meanwhile, thanked the Spanish people for coming out to their balconies and windows every night during the coronavirus lockdown to applaud for essential workers such as healthcare workers.

After the ceremony, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo praised the spirit of unity, while Catalan premier Quim Torra said: “It has been a tremendous tragedy and I believe acts like these, in which we can say goodbye to the people who died, help us with the collective condolence that we need so much.”

In the nearby Oriente square, around 20 people, some waving Spanish flags, cheered King Felipe and yelled insults at the prime minister and Unidas Podemos leader and deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias when they left the palace.

English version by Melissa Kitson.