New COVID-19 spike forces Barcelona to go back into lockdown

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis. [Shutterstock]

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

Around four million people in Barcelona and its surrounding area went back into lockdown for 15 days on Saturday (18 July) after a resurgence in COVID-19 infections over the past week.

The day before, the regional government announced measures urging people to stay at home unless for essential reasons, and not to travel to their second homes.

Besides, social gatherings will be limited to 10 people, the capacity of bars and restaurants capped at 50%, and night clubs, cinemas, theatres and gyms have been ordered to close.

The situation cannot be classified as a new wave of COVID-19, Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said in a radio interview, adding that “in Barcelona, there is community transmission. That’s how it is, we have to say it.”

Meanwhile, the OECD predicted unemployment in Spain to rise to 20% in the case of another COVID-19 outbreak.

As a consequence of the collapse of GDP, the calculations indicate that the unemployment rate will rise from around 14% at the end of 2019 to 19.2% at the end of this year, in the main scenario, but could in the end skyrocket to 20.1% in the case of a second outbreak.

In May, unemployment in Spain was the second-highest of the OECD countries, only surpassed by Colombia, touching 15% of its active population.

In April (the most critical phase of the pandemic) and May, Spain lost more than 15 million tourists.

As tourists spend an average of €1,000 per person in the country, the total loss over the two months has been estimated at around €15 billion.

In May alone, the country lost a total of 8 million tourists and more than €8.1 billion in May, according to fresh stats published on Thursday (2 July) by Spain’s National Institute of Statistic.

A large-scale study conducted in Spain has found that only 5% of the population had developed antibodies against the coronavirus and that immunity against the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 can be short-lived, Reuters reported on Monday (6 July).

During the EUROAGARO forum organised by Spanish news agency EFE and Portugal’s Lusa, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira said that “tourism cannot be left out of the transition towards a green and digital economy which “is not a choice or an option, it is an obligation.” She also stressed that the hard-hit sector’s “crucial role” for the economies of Spain and Portugal.

Meanwhile, Spain and its Iberian neighbour, Portugal, reopened their joint borders on Wednesday (1 July) to mark the return to the so-called ‘new normal’ life after the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on the tourism sector, one of Spain’s key economic engines.

In a bid to boost the country’s economy just in time for the summer season and support a tourism industry that represents more than 12% of Spain’s GDP, all business activities have been allowed to resume.

Travellers from other Schengen countries were able to cross the border into Spain as of Sunday (21 June) without having to undergo a two-week quarantine period.

However, the Spanish government has allocated extra personnel to carry out health checks on all passengers arriving in Spain by air or sea, which include, among other steps, taking the passenger’s temperature and doing a visual check on the passenger’s health condition.


As of Wednesday (22 July), Spain has recorded 313,274 COVID-19 cases and 28,424 deaths. So far, about 150,000 have recovered from the virus.

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Spain slowed on Tuesday (21 July) with 156 fewer cases reported the previous day, thanks to lower figures in Aragon and Catalonia, the communities most affected by the recent outbreaks.

On 5 July, around 70,000 residents in the north-western region of La Marina in Galicia were ordered into quarantine after a new outbreak linked to several bars in the area, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.

On 2 June, Spain reported zero COVID-19-related deaths in the preceding 48 hours for the first time since March, according to the health ministry’s reports.


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Reopening and a “new normal”

Spain started its first working day entering a ‘new normal’ on Monday (22 June) after 98 days under a state of alarm due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities have warned residents to remain vigilant to new outbreaks, especially during the summer when large numbers of people gather on beaches and international tourists return to the country.

On 9 June, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that the ‘new normal’ will be in place, with reinforced health measures, until the coronavirus is defeated and a vaccine for COVID-19 is found.

Spain has extended for one last time the state of alarm, which has been in place since 14 March, until 21 June. After that, the government will no longer impose movement restrictions across the country and external borders will be opened in July.

However, Spanish citizens will have to wear masks in closed public spaces and observe “social distancing” measures, among others.

On Sunday (14 June), Sánchez announced that Spain will reopen its borders – which have been closed since 14 March – with the rest of the EU from 21 June, during a weekly video conference.

“From then, there will no longer be an obligation to quarantine for those entering our country,” he said. However, while travellers from Portugal will have to wait until 1 July at the request of its government, those coming from non-Schengen countries will be allowed to enter Spain from 1 July as long as the country’s epidemiological situation is similar or better than that of the EU, the PM said, adding that they will also “have to accept some health measures related to origin, travel and destination. And lastly, it will have to be reciprocal.”

The majority of the Spanish population progressed into the third stage of the country’s four-phase lifting of coronavirus lockdown measures during the week of 8 June.

About 52% of the population in regions of northern, eastern and southern Spain will from 8 June allow restaurants and bars to partially reopen their interiors, and no longer have to respect allocated hours for outdoor exercise.

However, on 7 June, Sánchez urged young people to be prudent and follow hygiene and prevention regulations to prevent further outbreaks of coronavirus cases in the country.

25 May was the first day after more than two months of a strict lockdown that people in Madrid were able to meet up with friends and family from other households in groups of no more than 10 people as the city entered the first of the government’s four-stage easing of lockdown measures.

The city’s restaurants, cafes and bars could also reopen outside seating areas with tables having to be at 2m distance from one another and waiters having to wear gloves and masks.

The country will reopen its borders to foreign visitors from July, Sánchez told a press conference in Madrid on 23 May.

Sánchez said the hospitality and tourism industries play a “fundamental role.” The country welcomed 83.7 million tourists in 2019, making it the second-most popular destination in the world, generating €92 billion for the economy, accounting for 12% of the country’s GDP and providing almost 13% of its jobs.

Spain to reopen borders to foreign tourists from July

Spain’s tourism sector should prepare to welcome holidaymakers over the summer season as the country will reopen its borders to foreign visitors from July, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told a press conference in Madrid on Saturday (23 May). EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

A slow lifting of restrictions, at different speeds

On 16 May, the Spanish government has said it is seeking another month-long extension to the state of emergency declared on 14 March and make it the last. The extended state of emergency will “have very different characteristics from the previous ones because the situation in Spain has changed,” Sanchez told reporters on 16 May.

The Spainish parliament gave the government its approval on Wednesday (3 June) to extend, for the last time, the country’s ‘state of alarm’ until 21 June.

Meanwhile, the country’s different regions have been lifting restrictions at different speeds, which the prime minister first announced in a televised address on 28 May.

From 20 May, all Spaniards will have to wear masks on public transport, in closed spaces, on city streets, and particularly in narrow urban spaces, if a minimum safety distance of two metres between citizens can’t be guaranteed. On 2 May, Sanchez had announced that the government would even distribute 2 million protective masks to everyone.

When it comes to the reopening of shops, several provinces had entered phase 1 on 11 May, which allows for the reopening of bars and restaurants with limited capacity and sticking to strict hygiene measures and social distancing.

This includes small businesses and hairdressers under 400 square metres, as well as small shops which opened to people with appointments only.

Even before, at the end of April and beginning of May, restrictions were gradually being lifted because, at the time, the curve of the pandemic had begun to flatten as almost 90,000 COVID-19 patients had been discharged from hospitals and the number of new cases and deaths began seeing a decline.

While Spaniards were allowed to go out for walks and other exercises on 2 May, children could, for the first time since mid-March, walk and play outside for a maximum of one hour per day and within one kilometre around the house as of 26 April. Authorities had warned parents to act responsibly when taking their children out for walks.

When the measure was first announced on 21 April, it was promised that children under 14 could accompany an adult for essential errands from 26 April. Yet, because this didn’t allow minors to exercise or play outside, the decision was strongly criticised by parent groups, health organisations and left- and right-wing political parties, including Podemos, which is a junior partner to Sanchez’s governing socialist party.


For more about the easing of restrictions read on:


Spanish government announces plans to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures

Spain’s government has announced plans to ease its coronavirus lockdown measures as Monday’s death toll dropped under 400, the lowest since 22 March. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

Government under pressure

The Spanish government implemented a strict lockdown early on and saw its curve flatten as early as April.

The government was also commended for its decision to fully confine roughly 47 million people as a response to the pandemic, which Bruce Aylward, the head of the WHO mission to Spain, called “inspirational”. “What I saw in Spain was truly heroic,” he said, adding that it was “an extraordinary and innovative response,” particularly given the “striking speed” of the pandemic.

However, the government has nevertheless come under fire.

Spain’s executive has been harshly criticised on 22 April for its “lack of foresight” when the pandemic arrived in the country particularly by opposition parties, although it adhered to expert recommendations and WHO guidelines.

Previously, the socialist government was criticised for having distributed thousands of defective protective material to health professionals, and for purchasing a batch of faulty coronavirus tests.

The pressure and criticism have not made it easy for the government to receive sufficient backing from all parties in parliament.

For example, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has proposed a national pact on the economic and social “reconstruction” of the country, calling on all political parties, regional governments and social actors such as unions to take part.

However, while conservative opposition parties, such as Popular Party (PP), pro-Catalan group CUP and Vox would not discuss with the PM, many other parliamentary groups, usually critical of Sánchez, agreed to hold discussions last week.

On 15 April, during the first session of Spain’s Congress of Deputies since the lockdown started on 14 March, PP said it did not trust PM Pedro Sanchez.

While it may be difficult for the parties to come together, this idea is popular with citizens, as  91.4% of 3,000 respondents backed the national pact proposal in a survey by public research institute CIS in the first week of April.


For more about the increasing pressure:


Opposition criticises PM Sanchez for poor crisis management

As the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down in Spain, opposition parties have intensified criticism of the government’s management of the health crisis, amid fresh calls for an extension of the lockdown. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports. 

A dwindling economy

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown which forced all but essential workers to stay home, the Spanish economy took quite the hit. According to recent statistics from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), the economy slumped 5.2% in this year’s first quarter compared to the previous one as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

In March, 834,000 jobs had been lost in Spain’s economy, said Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz. “Spain has registered an increase in unemployment of 302,265 people. It is not a historical figure in the number of unemployed, but it is in terms of a monthly increase,” she told a press conference, adding that “we have 3.5 million people registered as unemployed,” she added.

The IMF’s 13 April predictions indicate that Spain’s economy could decline by 8% and unemployment could skyrocket to 20%.

In response to the rising unemployment, Spain prohibited companies from firing employees during the crisis.

On top of that, the cabinet approved 50 measures on 31 March that came into force on 1 April to support vulnerable groups who have been affected by temporary layoffs, as well as small and medium-sized businesses affected by the lockdown.

Ten days later, on 10 April, the coalition government approved the second package of credit lines worth €20 billion to help self-employed workers and SMEs.

To try and revive the economy, the government allowed all non-essential economic activities to resume on 13 April. Businesses had to respect social distancing and using protective equipment when necessary.

Authorities distributed workers with face masks at metro and train stations and told those commuting by bike, foot or car to not wear masks but advised them to wash their hands and maintain distance.

“The exceptional suspension period for all non-essential economic activities that we established two weeks ago has just ended,” Sánchez told a press conference on 12 April. “Between Monday and Tuesday, the economic activities that were hibernated on March 30 and, only those, will resume. And I want to underline that. Only those,” he added.

“The other activities that were interrupted when the state of alarm was decreed will continue to be interrupted. General confinement will be the rule for at least these next two weeks,” the prime minister said.

More recently, the Spanish coalition government of PSOE’s socialists and left-wing Unidas Podemos/United We Can, approved a special package worth €16 billion.

The package will be directly transferred to Spain’s autonomous communities to help them mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for the tourism and services sectors, two essential elements of Spain’s GDP and key drivers of its growth.

Most of the COVID-19 fund will go towards the health sector, to which the government will allocate a total of €9 billion, of which €6 billion will be released in July and €3 billion in November. An additional €2 billion, which will be paid out in September, will be allocated to education, government sources told EFE.

The remaining €5 billion will go towards mitigating the reduced income due to the drop in the country’s overall economic activity.

On 18 June, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that an extra €4.2 billion package will be offered to boost the national tourism sector.

Spain’s tourism sector, which accounts for about 12.3% of GDP, welcomed 84 million tourists in 2019 alone. However, this year, it is facing a “perfect storm” scenario with an estimated loss of income for 2020 of up to €100 billion, according to some estimates.


For more information on Spain’s economy and rising unemployment:


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Medical sector under pressure

Spanish healthcare workers have been given the country’s prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Concord this year for their efforts in tackling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Spanish health care workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients comprise the frontline in the fight against this disease in our country and have demonstrated since the health emergency began, a commendable level of professionalism and commitment,” the Princess of Asturias Award jury wrote in a statement.

By mid-April, chief epidemiologist Fernando Simon told a press conference that “we have unfortunately surpassed Italy, but the trends are right,” adding that “ICU admissions are decreasing.

Still, the country has been struggling with hospital beds, ventilators and masks, and medical workers, in particular, have been the most exposed to the virus, according to reports from health officials.

Medical workers have been testing positive to the virus in large numbers, which has put increasing pressure on the health sector.

“The effort they are making is recognised by everyone and has to be recognised in all necessary ways,” Simón told a press briefing on 24 March, after having previously said that “if distancing measures are strictly applied, the impact is very likely to be rapid and drastic.” 

Simon said, however, that the main concern was the country’s intensive care units, some of which were already nearing full capacity. “A patient who becomes infected today will not need an ICU bed until between seven to 10 days from now,” he said at the time.

After nurses and doctors demanded action as Spain reported its sharpest daily increase on 24 March, Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa announced the recruitment of approximately 30,000 additional health staff. Most would have been in their last years of internships, postgraduate students, as well as senior doctors, already retired were being called to work again.

On top of that, Spain had issues with medical equipment and hospital beds.

For instance, Spain had ordered seven million personal protective equipment suits, 550 million facemasks, 11 million gloves and 1,900 ventilators in March. However, 9,000 rapid testing kits from China of the ordered 5.5 million that had arrived on 26 March failed to meet specifications and had to be returned, Health Minister Illa said on 30 March.

Also, Spain has been setting up 16 field hospitals in hotspots and densely populated areas to ease the pressure from overwhelmed hospitals, including in Barcelona, according to Chief of Defence Staff, Miguel Angel Villarroya.

Madrid has set up a huge makeshift hospital in the massive Ifema convention centres, which will provide 5,500 beds, including 500 ICUS.


More on the country’s medical sector can be found here:


Spain records second-highest number of virus infections globally

Spain’s daily coronavirus fatalities jumped on Tuesday (7 April) after four days of decline, according to new data collected at the weekend, although health authorities said there was an overall downward trend in figures.

 

 

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