Spain will prolong its five week-long coronavirus lockdown until next month at least, and has warned that May will be just the beginning of a slow transition to life after quarantine.
In a televised address on Saturday night, Pedro Sánchez, prime minister, said he would ask parliament for a two week extension of the state of alert — the extraordinary legal order underpinning the lockdown.
But he added that his government planned a slight relaxation of the regime — one of the toughest in the world — to allow children out of their homes before the end of this month.
At present, the state of alert, which gives the government sweeping powers, is due to expire on April 26; a two-week extension will take it to May 9 at least.
“In the month of May we will begin taking the first steps towards a new normality,” Mr Sánchez said, while cautioning that the transition towards post-lockdown life would be slow and step by step.
Spain, where the coronavirus death toll passed 20,000 on Saturday, is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic. Mr Sánchez said that while it had managed to reduce the rate of transmission of the virus, “these achievements are still insufficient, and above all fragile: we cannot put them at risk with hasty decisions.”
Spain’s daily increase in documented cases has slowed from 30 per cent and above last month to around 2 to 3 per cent this month, while the number of deaths has fallen from a peak of 950 on April 2 to between 500 and 600 a day over the past week.
The Spanish prime minister said the lockdown would only be ended when World Health Organisation criteria were met regarding the control and tracing of the pandemic, and that it could be tightened if the spread of the virus exploded again.
But he added that, after consultation with experts including psychologists, he would propose that from April 27 children would no longer always be required to remain at home — noting that they are at present confined to flats that are sometimes 40 square metres or less. He warned that children would only be able to go on to the street for a limited period each day and would need to take precautions to avoid the spread of the virus.
Noting that the IMF had forecast that Spain would this year endure its worst economic performance since the 1936-1939 civil war — an 8 per cent fall in GDP — Mr Sánchez said that, “when we do once again venture out to the streets and the lockdown begins to end, we will find the havoc wreaked by a war without bombs.”
He called for solidarity from an EU summit next week due to discuss the contentious issue of a European fund to address the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic — a topic that has raised tensions between north and south.
“It would be unforgivable if Europe repeated the errors of the past,” he said in a reference to the bitter legacy of the financial crisis. “Europe should not allow the wolves of anti-European populism to take advantage of this crisis to spread their message of hate.”