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A police officer wearing a surgical mask verifies the identification of a driver at a mobility checkpoint to ensure compliance with the rules of confinement. SIPA USA/PA Images

Spanish government to seek one-month extension of state of emergency

It would mean the state of emergency that is currently set to expire on 24 May would last until late June, if approved.

SPAIN’S GOVERNMENT WILL seek a fresh extension to its state of emergency that will last “about a month” until the transition out of lockdown is completed, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said today. 

If such a measure is approved by lawmakers, it would mean the state of emergency that is currently set to expire on 24 May would last until late June. 

“The Spanish government will ask parliament to approve a new extension of the state of emergency.. it would be the last state of emergency and would continue until the end of the rollback,” Sanchez said in a televised address. 

“For that reason.. instead of being a 15-day (extension) it will be for about a month.”

The lockdown was first declared on 14 March to slow the spread of the virus in Spain, which has suffered one of the world’s most deadly outbreaks with 27,000 deaths and more than 230,000 cases. 

Sanchez said if Spain had followed a “herd immunity” strategy – allowing the virus to freely circulate to let the population develop mass immunity – deaths and infections could have been vastly higher. 

“If we had taken this path, the number of people infected could have been more than 30 million. And it could have cost the lives of around 300,000 people,” he said.

Renewed four times, the state of emergency has let the government impose some of the world’s tightest restrictions on Spain’s nearly 47 million population, although it has since begun a cautious rollback which is due to finish by late June. 

The latest data showed a further fall, with the number of overnight deaths dropping to 102 in what was the lowest figure in two months — and a far cry from the 950 of 2 April  when the epidemic peaked. 

Since 11 May, half of Spain’s population has benefited from an easing of the restrictions, with cafe terraces reopening and people allowed to meet in groups of up to 10 people.

And by Monday, fully three-quarters of the population will be able to enjoy such freedoms although these measures have not yet been rolled out in the worst-hit areas such as the Madrid region and Barcelona.

The government’s decision to keep Madrid in the so-called preparatory phase zero has provoked a backlash from the regional authorities who have accused the central government of playing politics and even threatened to take legal action. 

Despite calls to restart the economy, with particular emphasis on tourism, which accounts for 12% of Spain’s GDP, Sanchez defended the government’s cautious approach. 

“If we go too fast, and we make a wrong move, we could risk jeopardising the international credibility that has taken us decades to build up,” he said. 

And Sanchez didn’t rule out a further appeal to the eurozone’s rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). 

“If the Spanish government needs to use this, it will do so, ” he said. 

The last time Sanchez sought to extend the measure, he faced a wave of opposition from his right-wing opponents who vowed to block the move, although it was ultimately passed.

- © AFP 2020

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