Mayor of Barcelona demands “Free our children” as regional and ideological tensions in Spain rise with an extension of the coronavirus quarantine.
On the 6th April Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, issued a statement saying:
“I write as mayor and mother of two children, ages 9 and 3, who haven’t been out for a month. We have been with two small children at home for more than a month without going out for a single day, which they don’t understand: ‘Mum, if I don’t have the virus I can’t do any harm, why… why can’t I go out? I’m not to blame!’
Colau declared, “Wait no more: Free our children!”
Her shouts must have been heard by her fellow politicians in Podemos as the government soon answered her call. In fact, pressure had been mounting for days with various specialists, politicians and pundits calling for the relaxation of the quarantine regulations which at the moment remain the strictest in Europe.
On Tuesday 21st April the government decided it would allow children under 14 to go with an adult to the supermarket, bank or pharmacy. After a twitter tirade, debates between scientists and questions raised by political parties on both sides, the government backtracked.
Pointing out these were enclosed spaces did not look great for the government, but on the other side of the argument, some feared that letting people outside anywhere was unmeasurable. Changing the policy, the Health Minister said in an evening address, on the same day, that children 14 and under could go out to walk for up to an hour with an adult.
Update 25th April
According to El País:
Since announcing the law earlier in the week the government have failed to confirm and convey any solid guidelines up till now.
At Sunday’s (19th April) government press conference, José Manuel Santiago, the Guardia Civil’s chief of staff, said that the Guardia Civil were working to stop the spread of fake news relating to coronavirus. Vox and Popular Party leaders reacted against the chief of staff saying that the Guardia Civil was there to protect Spanish citizens and not the government, they accused them of curbing freedom of speech.
Whilst this may not be true, Spain has adopted a position on information being shared with the public. Not to share it. Before, citizens could request meeting notes and data from government departments, however, this will not return until Spain goes back to normal. The only way to access information will be via the government’s daily briefings.
The Guardia Civil’s intervention comes following weeks of fake news, and accusations in parliament of parties using fake accounts on twitter to stir up panic.
An example is a controversial image of a photoshopped Gran Via lined with coffins draped with Spanish flags. It was released by a Vox member on their twitter account. This was shortly followed by footage elsewhere of a warehouse full of medical supplies apparently going from Spain to France, despite shortages in the country. When in fact the video was taken in Italy and it was paper in the boxes, not anything medical.
Podemos have requested an investigation into Vox and a criminal organisation for allegedly spreading fake information on the internet.
Show me the money
The government has published details saying that they had spent €350.3 million on medical supplies so far. Much of this money comes from EU loans.
In the coming days we shall see a second meeting of the EU Council regarding the economic situation that binds them all: how to manage the Euro. As the pandemic declines on the continent the economic and societal crisis will mount. The EU plays an enormous part in how each country will manage the future crisis. Spain is working with Germany to create some middle ground over the ongoing debate of how to fund the recovery.
The government has also set a price for personal protective equipment for the public, facemasks at 96 cents and hand gel by the ml, to ensure that the costs don’t get out of hand and so they are available to all.
Hopefully, the government will also get a refund on the faulty masks and tests they brought from China. The faulty masks have led to more than a thousand healthcare workers going into isolation, fearing they may have caught covid-19 due to the faulty masks which have now been recalled. These professionals will now need to be tested. 15% of all covid-19 cases so far have been healthcare workers, and it is widely speculated that this figure could be higher.
The government continues to manage the pandemic timidly. With this they have had mixed poll ratings. A poll carried out by El Pais and 40 dB showed that 84.7% said that the government could have acted sooner and 54% said they had ‘more misses than hits’.
However, the damning rhetoric from the right does not seem to be paying off with 32% saying that the Popular party would have done the same as the current government, and a further 30% said that they would have done worse.
As the government debated whether to extend the state of alarm on Wednesday 22nd April, Spain’s death toll stood at 21,717 along with 208,389 infections. The infection rate in the country remained at 2%, which it had been around for the past 5 days. 85,915 patients had been discharged from hospital since the outbreak and 41.2% of confirmed cases had recovered from the virus.
The recovery rate is growing, but as the Prime Minister said during the debate, the relaxing of the lockdown would be slow and steady. The debate went on for 11 hours. Initially it started with the government explaining the progress they had made and the proposed plans for the extended quarantine, which would end on the 9th May. They include letting children outside the house and the set prices for face masks and hand gel. They also discussed the situation within the EU.
Sanchez once again made the offer to the opposition parties of a ‘Moncloa pact’ in the form of an economic-social reform package for when the pandemic ended. The principal actor he is trying to convince is Pablo Casado, leader of the Popular Party, but he says that Sanchez just wants to share the blame.
The debate was as split as ever. Vox and the other opposition parties were attacking the government for their management of the crisis, blurting out conspiracies and saying that Spain would become a country of ‘ration books’ like Venezuela. The Popular party voted for the extension with Casado saying that the fight against the pandemic is not a “war” but that “it is a catastrophe”.
Vox voted against extending the lockdown whilst also throwing ideological insults at the governing coalition. Aimed at Pablo Iglesias, Vox leader Abascal asked if the PM supported the comments of Iglesias on twitter which supported the Second Spanish Republic.
In what was at the height of the ideological clash, Sanchez put Abascal back in his place by saying that were many political traditions in the congress, and that whilst the left support democracy and a Spain for all, the far right support the glorification of a dictatorship and a society that isn’t inclusive.
Whilst ideological tensions are flaring up in Spain, as they have been for a while, the more interesting comments made were by the regional parties.
Gabriel Rufián, ERC (Catalan Republican Left), pointed out that “you cannot go to a funeral, but you can go to work on the Metro”. This echoes the concerns of many citizens on social media asking why someone can go to buy cigarettes but others cannot go for a run.
Some regional parties from Catalonia and the Basque country abstained from the vote, with the far-left Catalan party CUP, right wing Catalan party Together for Catalonia, both voting with Vox against the extension.
“Wait no more: Free our children!”
Whilst the right-wing parties aren’t close to a majority, it could be the regional parties that threaten to bring down the coalition government. They could only form because of deals made with regional parties and the PM did himself no favours when he centralised health at the start of the pandemic and withdrew their ability to manage it on their own.
From the tone of their criticism, tensions between the regions and central government seem to be on the rise. They will be more difficult to manage than the empty rhetoric of the right and could make governing very difficult for the already strained coalition.