Spain PM to opposition: extending state of alarm only guarantee to save lives

By Jake Threadgould

Madrid, May 5 (efe-epa).- The Spanish prime minister on Tuesday urged rival lawmakers to back his proposal to extend the state of alarm by another two weeks, saying it was the only way to save lives.

Pedro Sánchez has to get a simple majority in Congress Wednesday to extend the emergency measures but the backing of the conservative opposition Popular Party remains in the air, while Catalan separatists and the far-right Vox have said they would vote against it.

It would be the fourth time the government renews the state of alarm since it first came into effect on 14 March, ushering in one of the harshest lockdowns in the world.

The extraordinary measure gives the government the power to restrict the movement of citizens in the country. In Spain, it is currently forbidden to travel between provinces.

“I think we can all agree that the only instrument that right now allows the government to fight against Covid, to save lives and defend the healthcare system, is the extension of the state of alarm,” Sánchez told senators Tuesday afternoon.

“How can we guarantee that people from Madrid won’t head to their second home in Murcia? There is no alternative, we cannot come up with experiments if we don’t know how they’ll go or whether they’ll be effective,” he added.

The PP, led by Pablo Casado, has been heavily critical of the Sánchez government, a coalition with left-wing Unidas Podemos as junior partners, during the coronavirus crisis and has accused it of lying and using the emergency measures to further its own interests.

Casado has said his party could not support an extension of the state of alarm, although has not specified whether he will order his 88 MPs in 350-seat Congress to abstain or vote against. The measure will likely pass if the PP abstains.

Spain is on the cusp of entering the process of de-escalating its strict lockdown and this week allowed for the partial reopening of small businesses and hair salons.

A new measure came into effect on 2 May allowing adults over 14 to leave their house for a period of exercise during designated times of the day for the first time in seven weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Sánchez government unveiled a third coronavirus-era financial aid package to provide 24.5 billion euros of liquidity to businesses affected by the severe national lockdown as well as a tranche of money set aside to help the cultural sector.

The lockdown has battered Spain’s economy.

Around 947,896 jobs, most of them seasonal, have fallen off the social security register since the outbreak began and another 3.38 million people have signed up for benefits having been laid-off or temporarily laid off in a process known in Spain as an ERTE.

Sánchez said the cost to the state benefits system totalled 4.5 billion euros.

María Jesús Montero, the government spokeswoman, said 10 billion euros of liquidity would be allocated specifically to small businesses and the self-employed and 10 billion to other businesses suffering the economic consequences of the draconian lockdowns.

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