Spain 'risks chaos' if state of emergency not renewed

AFP , Monday 4 May 2020

Stickers delimit social distance inside a train station in Madrid, Spain, Monday, May 4, 2020. (Photo: AP)

Spain's coalition government warned the opposition Monday it could spark "chaos" in the healthcare system and the economy if it failed to approve an extension of the lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

Facing increasing criticism over its handling of the crisis, the minority government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will on Wednesday seek parliament's approval for a fresh two-week extension of the state of emergency.

Extended twice, the current measures are set to expire at midnight on May 9 as Spain has sought to fight a virus that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives.

But this time, the main opposition Popular Party has said it will not extend the move, raising the political stakes as Spain slowly begins easing restrictions that have kept nearly 47 million people at home for the past 50 days.

"We cannot support extending the state of emergency," PP leader Pablo Casado told Spain's Onda Zero radio station after talking with Sanchez by phone.

"When the prime minister says that... we are in a phase of de-escalation, it does not seem compatible with continuing to demand extraordinary measures against the rights and freedoms of Spaniards."

But Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos warned that any such move would have serious repercussions, saying it "could bring chaos to Spain's health system and its economy" and "end the best defence we have against COVID".

- Political dissent -

Experts believe the epidemic peaked on April 2, when 950 people died over 24 hours, and last week the government unveiled its plans for exiting the lockdown in a phased rollback due to be completed by the end of June.

Until now, the PP has voted in favour of extending the lockdown, but has refused to cooperate with the government on planning to deal with the economic crisis triggered by the epidemic.

The political dissent in Spain has been at odds with the relative ease with which the governments in neighbouring France and Portugal have been able to manage the crisis.

In Portugal, the conservative opposition has rallied around Prime Minister Antonio Costa's minority Socialist government.

"We will help in any way we can. I wish you courage, nerves of steel and much luck, because your luck is our luck," the leader of the main centre-right opposition PSD party, Rui Rio, said during a debate in parliament.

But that has changed in France, where government plans to exit the lockdown on May 11 have drawn a backlash for moving too fast.

Critics say the country does not have enough masks and is not ready to cope with strict social distancing and other measures needed to avoid a flare-up of the epidemic which has so far claimed nearly 25,000 lives there.

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