Masks obligatory on public transport in Spain amid de-escalation measures

(Update: changes headline, lede, adds details on de-escalation measures, Pedro Sanchez statement)

Madrid, May 2 (EFE).- Masks will be obligatory on public transport in Spain after residents were allowed outside to exercise amid de-escalation of the country’s lockdown.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday that face coverings will be mandatory on public transport from Monday when phase 0 of the government’s multi-staged de-escalation plan will begin.

“We know that the absolute confinement could not continue forever,” he explained.

He added: “We are starting the de-escalation with enormous uncertainties about the virus… like the other countries around us, but we are starting the de-escalation with some solid certainties about how to control the virus.”

He said the government will distribute six million free masks to promote compliance with the new rule.

The Spanish leader said he plans to ask Congress on Wednesday to approve a two-week extension of the country’s state of alarm, which would be the fourth of its kind.

Sánchez also announced the government will approve a special reconstruction fund of 16 billion euro for Spain’s regional authorities.

It is feared the coronavirus pandemic will cause the national GNP to fall nine per cent this year but he said he is confident Spain will recover by 2023.

Data released on Thursday showed Spain’s GDP had dropped 5.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, a period that only takes into account two weeks of lockdown.

Millions of people across the country left their homes on Saturday to exercise outdoors for the first time in seven weeks.

With the exception of essential workers and people unable to work from home, the vast majority of Spain’s 47 million residents have been housebound since 14 March, only allowed out to buy food or medicine.

Children have been able to go out with a supervising adult since Sunday and now residents of all ages are allowed outside once a day for exercise.

Health minister Salvador Illa outlined a strict schedule of allotted time slots for different ages groups in a bid to avoid overcrowding.

Residents can exercise alone within their municipal area or go on a walk with a member of their household no further than one kilometre from their house.

Over 70s and people who need to be accompanied on a walk by a family member or carer have been given a separate time slot to go outside.

The schedule only applies to towns and villages with a population over 5,000.

In Madrid many of the main streets were busy with people on walks, runs or bike rides on Saturday morning.

The new measure was part of the government’s roadmap to gradually dismantle what has been one of the world’s strict lockdowns.

Unlike countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Portugal, the Spanish government ruled out outdoor exercise when it declared a state of alarm.

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