Discontent bubbles in Spain even though coronavirus cases wane

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s fragile left-wing coalition sought support from political foes to extend a state of emergency on Wednesday as public protests simmered over the coronavirus crisis’ damage to the economy and tough social restrictions.

People wearing protective face masks walk at a train station, as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase one, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Valencia, Spain May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Even though deaths are slowing and Spain hopes to mostly lift a strict lockdown by the end of June, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wants to keep special powers for two more weeks to control the easing of restrictions.

After four previous extensions, he was back in parliament to drum up support again and looked likely to pass the measure narrowly with the help of small parties including centre-right Ciudadanos.

“We have not got this far by inertia, but by the work of the health workers,” Sanchez said.

“The citizens, united, have bent the (coronavirus) curve. No one has the right to waste what we have achieved together.”

Spain has recorded 27,778 deaths and 232,037 cases of COVID-19, but new fatalities have slowed to under 100 a day.

The leader of the conservative People’s Party accused Sanchez of going too far in one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns.

“Your plan has been a failure. Confinement prevents contagion but that cannot be an unlimited measure,” Pablo Casado said in parliament. “Your policies are causing wreckage.”

With Spain’s tourism-dependent economy forecast to contract up to 12.4% in 2020, frustration is boiling into protests.


Groups of up to several hundred demonstrators have been gathering daily at 9 p.m. to bang pots and pans outside homes and call for the government’s resignation, sometimes violating social-distancing rules.

Originating in Madrid’s wealthy, conservative Salamanca neighbourhood last week, the demonstrations have radiated across the capital and taken root in other cities.

Spain has eased restrictions to allow children outdoors, and some shops and beaches to reopen. But it is keeping a quarantine for overseas travellers for another two weeks and ordered all citizens, including children over six, to wear masks in public from Thursday.

“I think you’ve got to wear one, regardless of whether the government is right or not,” said Teresa, a housewife who disapproves of overall government strategy, as she was walking in central Madrid with face gear on.

Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Madrid’s Carlos III university, said protests were inevitable in various nations given the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, but in Spain’s case were fuelling previous political fragility.

Sanchez only formed his coalition in January after painstaking negotiations and four elections in four years.

“The difference between Spain and other countries in Europe is that the level of polarisation was already very high before the crisis,” he said. “The coronavirus is exacerbating it.”

The risk from this, the analyst said, was that it obscures legitimate criticism. “If the debate is whether the government is waging a coup or not, there’s no space to raise questions on concrete things like the use of face masks,” he said.

Reporting by Inti Landauro, Nathan Allen, Emma Pinedo, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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