‘Not gone away’: Spain’s PM urges caution as lockdown eases

Phased transition, set to begin on Monday, will see half of 47 million-strong population able to go out and socialise.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Barcelona
Spain's cumulative death total on Saturday reached 26,478 while the number of diagnosed cases rose to 223,578 [Nacho Doce/Reuters]

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned the coronavirus pandemic remains a threat lying in wait as the country moves towards easing its strict lockdown.

“We’ve managed to retake 99 percent of the ground lost to the virus,” said Sanchez in a televised address on Saturday. “I ask you to show the greatest precaution and prudence [because] the virus has not gone away, it is still there.”

The southern European nation’s death toll from the coronavirus fell to 179 on Saturday, down from 229 the previous day and a fraction of the highs above 900 daily seen in early April, the health ministry said.

The cumulative death total rose to 26,478 while the number of diagnosed cases rose to 223,578 from 222,857 the day before.   

Some 51 percent of the population will progress to Phase 1 of a four-step easing plan on Monday after the government decided the regions in which they lived met the necessary criteria.

In regions that made the cut, such as the Canary and Balearic Islands, bars, restaurants and shops will open at reduced capacity, and museums, gyms and hotels will open their doors for the first time in nearly two months.

Spain emerges from lockdown as strict measures ease further

The country’s two biggest cities – Madrid and Barcelona – do not currently meet the criteria for easing and will remain on Phase 0. Grenada and Malaga in the south, plus Valencia in the east will also remain under full lockdown.  

‘Same criteria’

Emergency Health Chief Fernando Simon on Saturday urged Spaniards not to think of it “as a race” and said it was possible Madrid would be ready to move onto the next stage within a week. 

Some regional governments, however, were unhappy about being held back on Phase 0.

Andalusian leader Juanma Moreno, a member of the opposition People’s Party, complained he had not been able to submit an easing proposal based on administrative health districts rather than provinces, as other regions such as Catalonia had done.

“I will ask that this decision be reviewed and the same criteria be applied to us as to the others,” he said.

The Madrid region’s deputy president Ignacio Aguado on Friday said he “regretted” the government had not allowed Madrid to move forward and said it would apply to move to Phase 1 on May 18.

The government will still encourage home working where possible and companies will have to implement staggered start and finish times to ensure distancing measures.

In a positive step for Spain’s tourism industry, which contributes about 12 percent of economic output, hotels will be allowed to open all rooms and nature tourism will be allowed for groups of up to 10.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies