Pandemic slows in Spain as political tensions rise

(Update 1: Additions throughout, adds latest figures, quotes from parliamentary session, info from latest political barometer survey, IMF)

Madrid, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- As the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down in Spain opposition parties have intensified their criticism of the government over its management of the health crisis amid fresh calls for an extension of the lockdown.

The country has been one of the worst affected by the deadly outbreak, with more than 177,000 confirmed infections and 18,579 deaths, with 523 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the latest official figures.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been urging the leaders of opposition parties to come together this week to start work on a national pact to guide the country out of the health crisis and ensure socio-economic stability.

But the leader of the conservative Popular Party, Pablo Casado, has thrown an early spanner in the works by delaying his scheduled sit-down with the prime minister until at least next week.

He accused the Socialist Party (PSOE) leader of using the discussions as a pretence for offloading blame for the government’s apparent failures in managing the crisis.

“If you want to make a pact, and I doubt you really do, do it with transparency and stenographers here in Parliament,” he told Sánchez during a parliamentary session attended by party spokespeople.

“We do not want to be part of your puppet show.”

Round-table negotiations in Spain usually start with a meeting between the prime minister and the next biggest opposition party in the chamber but this week Sánchez will kick off proceedings with a video call with Inés Arrimadas, leader of Ciudadanos, the sixth largest party in terms of seats.

It was the first such parliamentary debate to take place since the state of alarm came into effect in Spain a month ago.

Sánchez said he would submit a further extension of the lockdown — until 11 May — to lawmakers on 22 April.

A political barometer survey that Spain’s public research body CIS published Wednesday suggested the PP had marginally boosted its standing in public opinion during the crisis, moving from 19.6 to 21.1 percent support.

Other major parties fell in the rankings slightly but an overwhelming 87.8 percent of the 3,000 respondents interviewed in the first week of April believed parties should rally behind the government and leave partisan criticism until after the crisis had ended.

The number of new infections detected in Spain Wednesday jumped to 5,092, well above the recent daily average of about 3,000.

Fernando Simón, the head of the department of public health emergencies, attributed this to an accumulation of data from the Easter holiday period as well as increased testing in all Spanish regions, including asymptomatic carriers.

Some 70,853 people have recovered since the outbreak began.

As politicians prepared to debated their differences in Congress, Spanish residents have been facing problems such as the threat of an economic recession and not knowing when children will be allowed to go outside or return to their classrooms.

The International Monetary Fund has projected that Spain’s public debt could amount to 114.6 percent of its GDP in 2021. An ominous forecast that followed its prediction Tuesday that Spain’s economy could contract eight percent and the number of unemployment could skyrocket to 20 percent.

The government will meet with Spain’s autonomous communities on Wednesday to discuss education issues such as school closures and university entrance exams.

Spain’s health ministry and the Spanish Association of Pediatrics have been working together to organise in a “coordinated” way children going outside again when de-escalation becomes possible. EFE-EPA

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