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Saturday, September 19, 2020

State of alarm in Spain extended for a fifth time

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On May 20th, 2020, with almost 280,000 infections and close to 28,000 deaths reported in Spain, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez secured a narrow majority of 177 votes in the Congreso de los Diputados, the lower house of Parliament, for the fifth extension of the state of alarm since March 14th, this time until June 7th.

He received a narrow support of 177 votes (out of 350) from his coalition partner, the communist alliance Unidas Podemos, the separatist Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the ultra-left Más País, founded by a disgruntled former member of Podemos, as well as four regional parties from the Canary Islands, Aragon and Cantabria. The center-right Citizen Party, which recently seems to have moved to the left, and as a result has lost a few prominent members, agreed just one day in advance to vote in favor of the government plan. Still, their parliamentary speaker Edmundo Bal said that an unyielding and unilateral Prime Minister had taken advantage of the special situation and created lots of uncertainty.

In a rare moment of humbleness, Sánchez apologized for his mistakes, but at the same time pointed out that they were dictated by exceptional circumstances. He also appealed to all those united by the desire to save lives to work side by side.

Unsurprisingly, Sánchez was harshly criticized by the leader of the main opposition group, Pablo Casado from the Popular Party (PP), who accused him of wasting time and overstepping his powers, comparing him to the Sun King, France’s absolutist monarch Louis XIV.

On the same day, Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa announced the compulsory use of surgical masks from May 21st until at least until June 7th. Without a specific type being required, they must be worn on the street, in open-air spaces and any closed space that is for public use or that is open to the public, where it is not possible to maintain a distance of two meters between individuals.

The new rules apply to everyone over the age of six and the use of these masks is also recommended for children between three and five years old. Exceptions include people with respiratory problems and those with other health issues or disabilities, as well as cases of force majeure. Activities like running are also exempted.

The central government made it very clear that it will not be handing out masks to the public for free, but has set a maximum price of 0.96 euros. Regional authorities, which supposedly have received 9.6 million masks from Madrid, may take their own decisions, though.

At first, I was not recommend that they be worn by people with no symptoms, but after one of the numerous U-turns made by the current leadership, masks became mandatory on public transportation on May 4th.

Now, although no specific sanctions for those who refuse to wear them have been established, under the current Public Safety Law, approved by former PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on March 2015, offenders will most likely be fined between 100 and 600 euros for minor breaches.

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