Pedro Releases The Pressure

Has the government been saved from its citizens’ anger by letting them out for walk? Will the Popular Party save the coalition government or damn the country to chaos?

As someone with a dog I have been out every other day in the last 7 weeks. So I never had the overly euphoric experience of going outside the same as others.

For me, walking my dog gave me a little peace and tranquillity. It was a counterweight to the dystopian feeling I still get when I go shopping or see the daily death count.

Blocking out the latter when making the morning coffee, one can forget that this ‘new normal’ is in fact still a global crisis. Seeing the death count every morning in my notifications is a reminder of how quick a global pandemic can become a personal tragedy.

The death toll today is 163, the lowest since March. There will always be small reminders there to warn us. It is not over.

Yesterday, Spain was allowed out for the first time in 7 weeks to exercise and walk. In my local neighbourhood, a commuter town to the capital, there were many people, however something was missing. It wasn’t the over the top makeup and fitness clothing or the various styles of masks. The two marking factors that were lacking were young children playing and the elderly strolling along arm in arm. What had once been a source of annoyance was now a missing part of the landscape.

People seemed relieved to be out and they didn’t have the anger painted on their faces you imagine from seeing twitter. People were waving at each other enthusiastically whilst at the same time being conscious of their surroundings.

The dog warden van, which doubled up as a public announcement van, reminded people not to get too close. Even the teenagers that were stood next to each other complaining that people were not social distancing seemed to be having fun.

Better Planning

Letting the rest of us out seemed to work better than when the government planned to let the children out the week before. There was some moaning at the prospect of having to go out in timetables. Adults from 6 till 10 am, then the elderly for two hours followed by children from 12 till 6pm. Finally the elderly gets their turn again and then the adults finish off the day. Commentators moaned that the government liked to control everything, but if it had been a free for all, then they would have probably moaned about that.

The public anger towards the government seemed to hit peak last week with people, in some areas, hitting pots and pans right after applauding the key workers.

Last Tuesday the Prime Minister took to the TV to explain the four-phase de-escalation plan for the country. He also explained that it will be applied by province. As Spain remains under a state of alarm, this would make the central government responsible for overseeing this and not the 17 regional governments.

Within hours of announcing the plan, the regional premiers were protesting at the lack of control and flexibility the plan gives them. Whilst the Catalan and Madrid presidents added little that was insightful, Javier Lambán the Aragon President added that some areas could already open as they were less populated than others. The central government also announced that it will release 16 billion euros for the provinces to tackle the aftermath of the virus.

The Government later announced that the phases will be implemented carefully and will base their decisions upon hospital bed numbers for the sick. Each province will need to have 37–49 intensive care beds per 10,000 people within a five-day period, other factors will also be taken into account. Provinces can also go back a phase if needed.

All of Spain, excluding the islands, will start in phase zero. The provinces must apply, by the 6th May, to move to the next phase. With each new phase there are regulations such as shops opening for a certain number of people or people going to friends’ houses. People will not be allowed to move between regions as they may be in different phases at points in the future.

For or Against?

Regional Parties have warned that they will not vote to extend the state of alarm which is voted on every two weeks. If they fail to support the government, which will need their votes to pass the legislation as the government do not have a working majority, the responsibility will fall to the right-wing opposition parties. Vox have already voted against the last extension so that leaves the Popular Party and Cuidudanos. Without the state of alarm, healthcare responsibility could fall back to the provinces.

The public anger towards the government seemed to hit peak last week with people, in some areas, hitting pots and pans right after applauding the key workers. Social media had been on fire every day with new memes of Pablo Iglesias and hashtags aimed at Pedro Sanchez and his coalition government. WhatsApp groups were equally tense, and the daily TV shows. This coupled with the toxic rhetoric in Congress, anyone would think that Spain was the only country dealing with this crisis.

Yet this could all change with people going outside and with certain parties voting against the state of alarm. Sanchez has to appease the regional governments whilst trying to swoon the opposition. The Popular party proved in the December election that they still had a voter base, but that voter base punished them in the April elections for moving too far to the right. They were trying to outdo Vox. Maybe they will take this opportunity to look more mature and statesmanlike than their fellow right-wing competitors. A similar game seems to be going on between the Socialist party and Podemos.

If we don’t get an extension on the state of alarm Spain will be thrown into chaos with individual regions trying to manage alone. Part of the poor management of the pandemic has come down to the poor structure of the health care reporting systems and limited resources.

Whatever happens, Sanchez has proven to many that he is more than just a pretty face that many teased him for years ago. He has proven that he can work well (at times) with other parties in Spain, and countries in the EU whilst not being a lapdog. Doing this, he has appeared as the more experienced leader in the Congress.*

The daily walks may be the pressure valve this government needed, and they may have released it just at the right time. Or it could be too little, too late.

*I’m not a huge Sanchez fan.

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