Spanish government seeks another 2-week lockdown extension

Spain's government on Wednesday will seek parliament's approval to extend the state of emergency by another fortnight, until June 7th, even as the number of new coronavirus cases keeps falling.

The current state of emergency is set to expire on May 23 and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had initially said he would seek an extension of around a month.

But the government reduced the request to two weeks to secure the support of the centre-right Ciudadanos party, thereby guaranteeing it would pass during Wednesday's vote in the 350-seat chamber where Sanchez's coalition is in a minority.

“If there is no state of emergency, we won't have the capacity to restrict movement and the ongoing sacrifice that everyone has made will have served for nothing,” government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said.

The lockdown was first imposed on March 14th and it has since been renewed four times, despite growing criticism of Sanchez over his management of the crisis, notably from his rightwing opponents who did not support the last extension two weeks ago.

The government has also not ruled out a further extension, having shown itself in favour of continuing until the rollback of the lockdown restrictions is completed at the end of June.

“Limiting mobility, which is a fundamental right, can only be achieved like this,” said Health Minister Salvador Illa.

The government says the decree has allowed it to battle the epidemic and bring down the daily number of new cases, which on Tuesday stood at 295, health ministry figures showed.

Over the same period, 83 people died from the virus, in what was the third straight day the figure had been under 100.   

Fernando Simon, the health ministry's emergencies coordinator, said the medical authorities had managed to reduce the time between initial consultation and diagnosis of infection “to under 48 hours”.

This, he said, meant that “if the cases of the epidemic flared up again, we would be capable of locating (them) quickly”.

Spain has suffered one of the most deadly outbreaks of the virus, suffering more than 27,700 deaths out of more than 232,000 cases.    

But the government's management of the crisis has come under fire in recent days with street protests in Madrid and other cities, where demonstrators banged pots and demanded Sanchez's resignation amid cries of “freedom”.   

Women draped int he Spanish national flag walk through Madrid after a protest on Tuesday night. Photo: AFP

“(These protests) are demanding freedom of movement and what that means at this point in time… is the freedom for the infection to spread and freedom to impact the health of other people,” spokeswoman Montero said.

Figures from a survey by the state-run Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS) published on Tuesday showed 95 percent of Spaniards support the lockdown and 60 percent believe it should be extended, despite the protests.


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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.