Coronavirus prompts political scramble for national pact in Spain

Madrid, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- The socio-economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus in Spain has prompted political parties to scramble for a national accord on the country’s reconstruction, an initiative proposed by the Socialist Party-led government and backed by the majority of the population.

The number of Covid-19 related deaths in Spain rose by 551 Thursday to 19,130 while 5,183 new infections were detected in the last 24 hours, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 182,816 (roughly 91,000 still active), according to the health ministry.

Health minister Salvador Illa attributed the slight jump in infection rate, which was 2.9 percent, to increased testing of asymptomatic carriers.

Spain remains one of the worst-affected countries in terms of infection numbers, behind the United States, and fatalities, behind the US and Italy.

As well as the human toll, economists have warned of choppy waters ahead as the country begins to contemplate its exit from the crisis.

The International Monetary Fund predicted Spain’s economy could contract by 8 percent and unemployment surge to 20.8 percent as a result of the lockdown the government enforced on 14 March and the two week period of “economic hibernation” in place at the beginning of April.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has proposed a national pact on the economic and social “reconstruction” of the country, calling on all political parties, regional governments and social actors such as unions to take part.

He is set to begin discussions via video link Thursday.

Controversially, the largest opposition group, the Popular Party, led by Pablo Casado, has not agreed on a date to sit down with Sánchez.

Casado has been vociferously critical of the coalition government’s handling of the crisis so far.

The far-right Vox party has declined the invitation altogether, as has pro-Catalan group CUP.

The rest of Spain’s parliamentary groups, many critical of Sánchez, have agreed to hold discussion Thursday and Friday.

While political parties laid bare their differences, the idea of a national accord is backed by the immense majority of the Spanish population.

According to the public research institute CIS, 91.4 percent of 3,000 respondents surveyed in the first week of April wanted there to be a “special effort” to tackle an economic crisis by way of sweeping political agreements.

The crisis has already wiped 890,000 jobs from Spain’s labor market since the lockdown came into effect, figures similar to those recorded in the 10 months that followed the 2008/9 financial crisis.

At least 3.9 million workers have been affected by temporary lay-offs, especially in retail and tourism. EFE-EPA


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