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Coronavirus: Spain’s Sanchez to seek one-month extension of state emergency

Published: Updated:

Spain’s government will seek a fresh extension of its state of emergency that will last about a month until the transition out of lockdown is completed, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday.

If such a measure is approved by lawmakers, it would mean the state of emergency that is currently set to expire on May 24, would last until late June.

“The Spanish government will ask parliament to approve a new extension of the state of emergency.. it would be the last state of emergency and would continue until the end of the rollback,” Sanchez said in a televised address.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

“For that reason.. instead of being a 15-day (extension) it will be for about a month.”

The lockdown was first declared on March 14 to slow the spread of the virus in Spain, which has suffered one of the world's most deadly outbreaks with 27,000 deaths and more than 230,000 cases.

A couple walk past the closed stadium of Spanish 2nd division club Rayo Vallecano in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday, May 14, 2020. (AP)
A couple walk past the closed stadium of Spanish 2nd division club Rayo Vallecano in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday, May 14, 2020. (AP)

Sanchez said if Spain had followed a "herd immunity" strategy – allowing the virus to freely circulate to let the population develop mass immunity – deaths and infections could have been vastly higher.

“If we had taken this path, the number of people infected could have been more than 30 million. And it could have cost the lives of around 300,000 people,” he said.

Renewed four times, the state of emergency has let the government impose some of the world's tightest restrictions on Spain's nearly 47 million population, although it has since begun a cautious rollback which is due to finish by late June.

The latest data showed a further fall, with the number of overnight deaths dropping to 102 in what was the lowest figure in two months – and a far cry from the 950 of April 2 when the epidemic peaked.

Since May 11, half of Spain's population has benefited from an easing of the restrictions, with cafe terraces reopening and people allowed to meet in groups of up to 10 people.

A passenger wearing a protective face mask walks past a National Police officer upon arriving at Adolfo Suarez Barajas Airport, after Spanish government announced that from May 15th all people entering Spain will have to go under quarantine for two weeks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid, Spain, May 12, 2020. (Reuters)
A passenger wearing a protective face mask walks past a National Police officer upon arriving at Adolfo Suarez Barajas Airport, after Spanish government announced that from May 15th all people entering Spain will have to go under quarantine for two weeks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid, Spain, May 12, 2020. (Reuters)

And by Monday, fully three-quarters of the population will be able to enjoy such freedoms although these measures have not yet been rolled out in the worst-hit areas such as the Madrid region and Barcelona.

The government's decision to keep Madrid in the so-called preparatory phase zero has provoked a backlash from the regional authorities who have accused the central government of playing politics and even threatened to take legal action.

Despite calls to restart the economy, with particular emphasis on tourism, which accounts for 12 percent of Spain's GDP, Sanchez defended the government's cautious approach.

“If we go too fast, and we make a wrong move, we could risk jeopardizing the international credibility that has taken us decades to build up,” he said.

And Sanchez didn't rule out a further appeal to the eurozone's rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

“If the Spanish government needs to use this, it will do so,” he said.

The last time Sanchez's government sought to extend the measure, he faced a wave of opposition from his rightwing opponents who vowed to block the move, although it was ultimately passed.