Spain PM urges unity as he pushes to extend lockdown
Facing growing political opposition and protests in the street, Spain’s Pedro Sanchez called for unity on Wednesday as his minority government sought parliament’s approval for an extension of the lockdown.
Pot-banging demonstrators have hit the streets of several cities to demand Sanchez’s government quits over its handling of the crisis and curbing of basic freedoms.
“It’s the Spanish people who have stopped the virus together… nobody has the right to squander what we’ve achieved during these long weeks of confinement,” the prime minister told parliament, which is expected to back extending the state of emergency until June 6.
The protests have been backed by the far-right Vox, whose leader Santiago Abascal on Wednesday declared it “an unstoppable revolt”, and by the main right-wing opposition People’s Party (PP).
“You are the epitome of chaos and the worst thing is that you are unable to protect the Spanish people without resorting to this brutal confinement,” said PP leader Pablo Casado.
But the government says the state of emergency, which has been renewed four times since it was imposed on March 14, has allowed it to battle the epidemic and reduce the daily number of new cases and deaths to a fraction of what it was in early April.
“There are still hundreds of new cases every day which we have to detect, deal with and isolate,” Sanchez said, adding that an extension was “the only way possible way to effectively fight the virus”.
Public backs a new extension
From Thursday, it will be obligatory to wear masks in public where social distancing is not possible, officials said on Wednesday. Already compulsory on public transport, the new decree applies to everyone aged six and over.
The current state of emergency will expire at midnight on Saturday and Sanchez initially said he wanted an extension of around a month.
However, he reduced the period to two weeks to secure the support of the centre-right Ciudadanos party and guarantee it would pass Wednesday’s vote in the 350-seat chamber, where Sanchez’s coalition is in a minority.
Spain has suffered one of the most deadly outbreaks of the virus, losing more than 27,700 lives, although the daily death toll has fallen to just 83 — a far cry from the 950 registered at the peak on April 2.
And it has since begun a cautious, staged rollback of the lockdown. which is due to finish by late June.
Despite the anti-government protests, a survey published on Tuesday by the state-run Centre for Sociological Studies suggested 95 percent of Spaniards supported the lockdown and 60 percent believed it should be extended.