By Silvio Castellanos and Guillermo Martinez
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s government will seek to extend its coronavirus state of emergency one last time until late June, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday as anti-government protests broke out around the hard-hit country.
“The path that we are taking is the only one possible,” Sanchez told a news conference, saying he would ask parliament for an extension of about a month until the end of June when most of the nation should be returning to normality.
Spain first decreed a state of emergency on March 14. Officials say that while the outbreak has been brought largely under control, restrictions must stay in place a bit longer as the lockdown is gradually phased out.
The country’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 102 to 27,563 on Saturday, the lowest 24-hour increase since March 18. Confirmed coronavirus cases climbed to 230,698 from 230,183, the health ministry said.
After pushing four previous extensions through parliament, support for Sanchez’s left-wing coalition is waning among lawmakers and voters.
Protests against the government’s handling of the crisis and its economic fallout sprang up around Spain on Saturday, with demonstrators gathering to bang pots and pans and call for the government to resign.
At the largest such demonstration, in Madrid’s wealthy Salamanca neighbourhood, several hundred people congregated despite the efforts of police to enforce social-distancing.
Waving Spanish flags and crying “viva España!” some denounced the leftist government as communists seeking to ruin the country.
“I am against all the measures which this government has used to manage the coronavirus,” Jose Flores, a banker, told Reuters at the protest.
In one video shared widely on social media, a huge banner depicting Sanchez’s face with the word “obey” emblazoned underneath was unfurled from a Madrid tower block.
“They need to test everybody so healthy people can get back to work and we can restart the economy,” said another demonstrator in Salamanca who gave his name only as Carlos.
“After coronavirus the worst virus is going to be the virus of Pedro and Pablo, who are going to ruin 47 million Spaniards,” he said, referring to Sanchez and his deputy, far-left politician Pablo Iglesias.
Similar protests took place in Zaragoza and the southern city of Seville, until recently a Socialist Party stronghold.
“It doesn’t matter what the demonstrations are about. The important thing is to maintain social distancing,” Sanchez said.
(Additional reporting by Susana Vera; Writing by Graham Keeley and Nathan Allen; Editing by Helen Popper and Daniel Wallis)