By Joan Faus and Graham Keeley
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday he would ask parliament for a 15-day extension until May 9 of the lockdown imposed in one of the world’s worst coronavirus’ outbreaks, but said the restrictions would be more flexible.
“We have left behind the most extreme moments,” Sanchez said at a press briefing. But he added: “These achievements are still insufficient and above all fragile. We cannot put them at risk with hasty solutions”.
Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus rose at a slower pace on Saturday but surpassed 20,000 fatalities, the Health Ministry said. It increased by 565 deaths, down from 585 on Friday, while the number of coronavirus cases rose to 191,726 from 188,068.
Spain began this week to ease a strict lockdown imposed on March 14 by opening up some sectors of the economy, including manufacturing. But most people are still confined to their homes except for essential outings such as food shopping, and not even children are allowed out for exercise.
The country with the third highest coronavirus death toll will move slowly, carefully and progressively towards the “new normality”, Sanchez said.
But he warned it would be a complex task and that the economic consequences of the outbreak will be “very negative”.
Asked if citizens would be able to have regular summer holidays, the Socialist leader said he hoped so but that he could not give an answer, signalling the uncertainty on the scope of any de-escalation phase.
As he seeks a third parliamentary extension of the state of emergency, the next lockdown phase could start being “asymmetric” on April 27, meaning it could be more relaxed for some regions or groups, Sanchez said, without specifying.
For instance, children would be allowed out of their homes though it would be “limited and subject to conditions to avoid contagion,” Sanchez said. The prime minister plans to define the criteria in coming days, including in a meeting on Sunday with Spain’s 17 regional leaders.
Despite stressing an improvement in the figures and defending his government’s measures, Sanchez said Western countries “reacted late” to the virus’ outbreak. He also admitted Spain could not initially provide all the protective equipment needed for its health workers.
The health ministry plans to announce an order on Sunday to control and fix the prices of masks for citizens, Sanchez said.
NUMBER OF DEATHS
Health emergency chief Fernando Simon earlier said he hoped to see soon a steeper decrease in the number of coronavirus deaths.
Simon said he expected a significant rise in registered coronavirus cases as the number of quick tests conducted has doubled in the past three weeks, but stressed that the tests have shown a lower infection rate among citizens.
Spain’s labour minister Yolanda Diaz said on Friday her department was planning a two-phased economic resumption, the first for productive sectors up to the summer and a second for tourism and leisure which would last until the end of the year.
But any final decision would depend on health authorities, her office said in a statement.
(Reporting by Joan Faus and Graham Keeley; Writing by Joan Faus; Editing by Toby Chopra, Ros Russell and Daniel Wallis)