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PEDRO SÁNCHEZ

Spain extends ‘state of emergency’ for one last final time

Spanish lawmakers voted Wednesday to extend the state of emergency a final time through to June 21st as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged an embittered opposition not to succumb to the "poison of hate".

Spain extends 'state of emergency' for one last final time
Pedro Sanchez won the vote to extend the state of emergency for another fortnight. Photo: AFP

It is the sixth time the measure has been renewed, meaning the restrictions will remain in force, although they have been significantly eased since the start of the lockdown in mid-March.

The emergency has let the government impose significant limitations on freedom of movement, keeping Spain's nearly 47 million population largely at home in a bid to fight the epidemic which has claimed over 27,000 lives.

Although Sanchez's left-wing coalition only holds a minority in the 350-seat chamber, the extension passed after he reached agreement with several smaller parties.

The vote went through with 177 for, 155 against and 18 abstentions.

Even though the pandemic is well under control in Spain, where only around 60 people have died over the past week, the government insists it is a fundamental measure as the country moves through the final phases of the rollback which is due to be completed by late June.

By that point, Sanchez is hoping that normal freedom of movement will be fully restored and Spain will open its borders to international visitors from July 1st.

But the government's management of the crisis has come under fierce attack from the right, which has accused Sanchez of abusing the state of emergency to suppress individual liberties.

“We undertook one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe and the West,” Sanchez told lawmakers. “It has been terribly hard but tremendously effective,” he said.

But his right-wing opponents quickly hit back, accusing him of incompetence.


People's Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado takes part in the Government's question time session prior to the vote. Photo: AFP

 

“You have been incapable of saving lives and have not defended the economy, affecting thousands of people,” said  Pablo Casado, head of the right-wing Popular Party.

And far-right Vox leader Santiago Abascal accused Sanchez of “criminal negligence” that had caused the deaths of “tens of thousands of Spaniards”.    

But the prime minister warned them about stirring hatred.    

“The poison of hatred is the most harmful,” he said, pointing to the massive unrest sweeping the United States following the killing of an unarmed African-American when a white policeman knelt on his neck.    

“We can see it in the United States and we don't want to see it here.”

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COVID-19

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.

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