Spain looks set to extend COVID-19 state of emergency after PM musters opposition support

MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez looks set to secure enough parliamentary votes on Wednesday (May 6) to extend a state of emergency for two more weeks as the country relaxes a lockdown imposed to control one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

The strict lockdown has brought the outbreak under control, with a daily death toll of 244 recorded on Wednesday – far below peaks of nearly 1,000 registered at the beginning of April. But it has devastated the economy and led to huge job losses.

The parliamentary wrangling on how to orchestrate the exit from the lockdown underlines the divisive political environment in a country that has faced four national elections in four years and where the government must battle for any backing.

“Lifting the state of emergency would be a total, unpardonable mistake,” Sanchez said in a parliamentary speech on Wednesday, adding that the billions in state aid to help businesses and individuals hit by the lockdown were released thanks to the emergency decree.

Sanchez’s weak coalition government has secured the support of the regional Basque nationalist party PNV, in addition to the centre-right Ciudadanos party, which said it would back an extension.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Barcelona

A man holds a sign that reads: “Bravo for saving lives” in front of health workers demonstrating to get back the 5 percent of the salary that was cut ten years ago, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Barcelona, Spain May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

This guarantees enough votes to approve the decree despite losing the support of the opposition conservatives, the People’s Party (PP). The state of emergency, which expires on Saturday, gives the government powers to control people’s movement.

Small businesses such as hairdressers started to open this week with restrictions while Spaniards, under strict confinement since mid-March to control the outbreak that has killed nearly 26,000 people, are now allowed out of their houses for exercise.

In a further move back to normality, football players from Barcelona FC will return to their training ground on Wednesday to undergo testing for the coronavirus as La Liga soccer clubs plan a return to action in June.

However, in a sign of how the lockdown has wreaked havoc on Spain’s economy, service sector executives reported a further plunge in activity in April from March’s record low as businesses shuttered and people stayed indoors.

The economy shrunk by its biggest amount on record, 5.2 per cent in the first three months of 2020 due to the impact of the crisis. The government predicts the tourism-dependent economy could shrink as much as 9.2 per cent this year.

The decree will be the fourth two-week extension to the state of emergency.

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