Spain Gives Sanchez Another Two Weeks of Emergency Virus Powers

(Bloomberg) --

The Spanish parliament backed Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s request to extend a state of emergency through May 23 as he tries to guide the country out of lockdown.

The motion passed with 178 votes in favor and 75 against. The conservative People’s Party, the main opposition group, refused to endorse Sanchez’s extraordinary powers for the first time in a sign of how the political consensus is crumbling after almost two months of harsh restrictions on daily life. The PP accounted for most of the 97 abstentions.

Spain Gives Sanchez Another Two Weeks of Emergency Virus Powers

The prime minister says he needs to keep the special regime in place to ensure that the ongoing restrictions are enforced and to control the health system, which is normally run by the country’s 17 regional administrations.

“Lifting the state of emergency at this time would be an absolute mistake,” Sanchez told lawmakers at a sparsely attended plenary in Madrid Wednesday, with most deputies following the debate and voting remotely. While the limits on activity will gradually be eased, “there will continue to be restrictions and those restrictions require the state of alarm,” he said.

The PP had voted in favor of extending the state of emergency on three occasions but as the pandemic abates, political hostilities are flaring up. Its abstention left the prime minister to stitch together support from a group of smaller parties since his minority government doesn’t have the lawmakers to form a majority on its own.

PP Leader Pablo Casado said Sanchez has failed to mobilize the testing operations required to keep track of infections properly and that leaves the country vulnerable as it tries to get the economy going again.

“Infected people without symptoms can infect the rest of the population without knowing it,” he said. “You still haven’t recognized a single error and demand that everyone supports you without a murmur.”

Earlier in the day, the European Commission forecast that Spain will suffer a fierce contraction in economic output this year of 9.4%, exceeded only by Italy and Greece. Government debt will jump to 116% of GDP from 96% at the end of last year.

While some 26,000 people have died from the pandemic and around 220,000 have been infected, the rate of infection has declined steadily over the past month. The government reported stable numbers of new coronavirus cases and deaths on Wednesday and started easing restrictions this week, allowing restaurants and bars to serve takeaway and certain stores, such as hairdressers, to start operating by appointment.

In four of the Spanish islands, bars and restaurants were allowed to open under with restrictions on the number of clients and special safety requirements, in a prelude to how the reopening will be managed in the rest of the country over the coming weeks. Sanchez has said he aims to return the whole country to a “new normal” by the end of June, though he’s warned that a resurgence in infections could see restrictions tightened again.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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