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The Congress of Deputies voted to accept the petition of the Spanish Government to extend the current State of Alarm for two more weeks, the fourth such extension, which means that the measures for confinement will remain in place at least Saturday 24th May. On the same day, the Generalitat Valenciana submitted its application for authorisation to move the Valencian region into Phase 1 next Monday 11th May, its proposal considering that all the key parameters to so do have been met.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had a tough task to convince parties that the nation needed to remain in a State of Alarm for at least another fortnight. “We have managed a partial victory against the virus with everyone's sacrifice. We are not here by chance. Nobody gets it right all the time in such an unprecedented situation. There are no absolutely correct decisions, but lifting the state of alarm now would be an absolute mistake. All rights remain intact, not a single liberty has been violated. Just two of them have been limited, freedom of movement and to ensure public health and save lives. We need to limit freedom of movement a few weeks more.”

Oppositions parties had already expressed their concerns and the Partido Popular (PP) would choose to abstain from the vote with leader Pablo Casado accusing Sánchez of establishing a "constitutional dictatorship" and manipulating the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic in Spain. He also warned that PP abstention would turn to outright rejection if fifth extension was sought. “You are trying to craft a tale that's outside reality in order to arrive at this unsettling new normality that you’re trying to sell us. Don't bring us another extension in 15 days, because we won't approve it. We do not support this overstepping of legal boundaries that has turned into a covert state of exception.”

Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party which is the third biggest in Congress, was equally scathing of the Government, suggesting that Sánchez could be facing a vote of no confidence. “You, Mr Sánchez, are trying to blackmail this chamber into renewing a power that you have abused. Maintaining the state of alarm saves neither lives nor jobs. What would save lives and jobs would be a change of government.” He also accused Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesia (Unidas Podemos) of attempting to introduce "a bolivarian regime" into the country.

Ultimately, the Government won the day through a simple but very narrow majority. With the support of coalition party Unidas Podemos and smaller parties such as Cuidadanos, PNV (Basque National Party) and Coalición Canaria, the Prime Minister gained 178 votes in favour of the extension with 75 votes against and 97 abstentions, the majority of which were from the PP deputies. There were a number of last-minute negotiations to overcome to garner support, including pledges that decisions of the deescalation process will made in partnership with regional authorities rather than controlled absolutely by Central Government and to look at economic concessions when the State of Alarm is over, particularly for the self-employed.

As the drama unfolded in Madrid, the Consell of the Generalitat Valenciana submitted its application for the Comunidad Valenciana to move into Phase 1 of the deescalation process on Monday 11th May. All autonomous authorities had to apply to do so by 2pm on Wednesday 6th May. At the weekend, President Ximo Puig claimed that the region was almost ready with six out of ten diagnosed patients already cured and only 30% of cases remaining active with admissions into intensive care at their lowest level since March 22nd. On Tuesday Health Minister Ana Barceló announced that the region was ready and met the necessary requirements to move to Phase 1 on Monday.

Moving into Phase 1 is a significant step in the recovery of the region. Bars and restaurants can open their terraces but only up to 50% of their licensed capacity but it is expected that only not all of them will do so, mainly only those with larger outside spaces since tables will need to be placed at least two metres apart. Smaller shops will be able to open without customers needing to make an appointment but capacity has been set 30% of licensed maximum. Up to ten people will be able to meet together, both inside and outside, albeit ensuring that everyone observes the appropriate safety measures such as social distancing of a minimum of two metres and respect hygiene requirements such as hand-washing and face-masks. RENFE has already confirmed that there will be more than 340 trains providing a service across the region and that a return to normal will be gradual, according to demand. Shopping centres and leisure areas with attract a larger concentration of people will have to wait until Phase 2 to be able to re-open.

Source: Various sources
Date: Thursday 7th May 2020





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