**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.
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. From Wednesday (20 May), the use of masks will be mandatory, Health Minister Salvador Illa announced on Tuesday.
This was the result of an agreement reached between the progressive coalition government (socialists of the PSOE and left-wing Unidas Podemos/United We Can) and liberal-centrists of Ciudadanos (Citizens).
Meanwhile, the Spanish government is seeking another month-long extension to the state of emergency decreed on 14 March and make it the last, the government said on Saturday (16 May), EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. The current state of emergency is set to run out on 23 May.
“I want to announce that the Spanish government will ask the Congress of Deputies for a new extension of the state of emergency, although it will have very different characteristics from the previous ones because the situation in Spain has changed,” socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told reporters on 16 May.
As of Sunday (17 May), Spain has recorded 231,606 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27,709 deaths and 150,376 recoveries.
On Thursday (14 May), the number of Spanish health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 reached 50,088, with 1,228 new cases were reported in the span of 24 hours, according to the latest data released by Spain’s Health authorities.
No herd immunity – only 5% of population is immune
Fernando Simón, director of the Center for Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, stressed on Thursday (14 May) that the latest “seroprevalence” analysis across Spain shows that no Spanish community or region is full protected by herd immunity and, therefore, this indicator could not be used as reference for the next phases of the unlocking measures.
The results of the study show that only 5% of the Spanish population has antibodies against the coronavirus, Simón said, EFE reported.
Shops have opened in Spain for the first time since mid-March
Several provinces have launched phase 1 of the country’s de-escalation measures which will see bars and restaurants reopen with limited capacity and sticking to strict hygiene measures and social distancing.
As part of the government’s de-escalation phase, small businesses and hairdressers under 400 square metres were allowed to open their doors for the first time on Monday since the state of alarm was declared on 14 March.
Churches will also open operating at a third of capacity as well as small shops that will open on appointment only.
Meanwhile, the country’s hotspots in Madrid and Barcelona will remain in Phase 0 and have submitted proposals to the government on Monday (11 May) to start easing measures which, if approved, would start on 18 May. Granada, Málaga and Valencia, however, will still abide with full confinement rules.
Citizens will also be required to wear protective face masks in public transportation, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday (2 May). He added that the government will distribute six million free masks to promote compliance with the new rule. “We know that the absolute confinement could not continue forever,” the socialist PM explained.
Flattened curve leads to a relaxation of restrictions
As almost 90,000 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from hospital and new cases and deaths saw a decline, the curve of the pandemic has begun to flatten, and certain measures starting to be relaxed.
Assuming continued declines in new infections and deaths, a further relaxation of the country’s lockdown is set for 2 May, when Spaniards will be able to go outside for walks or other exercises. PM Pedro Sanchez announced the move on 25 April. The country’s coronavirus lockdown will be lifted in stages although de-escalation could progress at different speeds at a provincial level, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in a televised address on 28 April, without giving fixed dates for each stage.
Meanwhile, on 26 April, children were permitted to walk and play outside for the first time since mid-March, and Fernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Emergency Coordination Center, told reporters on 26 April “that there will be no problem next week in applying relief measures.” But Spanish authorities have warned parents to act responsibly when taking their children out for a walk in order to ensure that the first major easing of the coronavirus lockdown does not become a public health risk.
While the majority followed the rules – one adult can take out children for a maximum of one hour per day and walks need to be within one kilometre of the house – Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told a press briefing on 27 April that 157 people had been arrested on Sunday for allegedly breaching the lockdown rules, a number that was in line with the daily average.
Spanish government criticised for “lack of foresight”
Spain’s executive has been harshly criticised 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.
The socialist government came under fire for previously having distributed thousands of defective protective material to health professionals, and for purchasing a batch of faulty coronavirus tests.
Fernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Emergency Coordination Centre, told reporters earlier this week that “we are very exposed to all kinds of criticism. This team here is a technical team and we all work as honestly as possible.”
A ‘national pact’ to rebuild the country
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.
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 even 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 proposal, in a survey by public research institute CIS in the first week of April.
Spanish children allowed outside
Authorities announced on Tuesday (21 April) that children under 14 could accompany an adult for essential errands from 26 April as a partial “relief” from the strict measures after the country’s health ministry and Spain’s association of paediatrics had “coordinated” a plan for children going back outside once de-escalation becomes possible.
When minors had not been allowed outside to exercise or play, 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.
A few hours after the announcement, Health Minister Salvador Illa reported a change in criteria so that children will be able to go for walks and said the details would be clarified in the coming days, adding that “we know how to listen.”
Back to non-essential work as economy dwindles
“The exceptional suspension period for all non-essential economic activities that we established two weeks ago has just ended,” PM Sánchez told a press conference on Sunday (12 April), adding that the lockdown remained in place and that things would not go back to the way they were after he had met with regional presidents.
However, the decision to let people who were not affected by the original lockdown order on 14 March go back to work Monday raised some concerns with the PM’s political allies in the Socialist Party-led coalition, particularly Unidas Podemos, which had urged the PM to remain flexible on the topic.
Although the coalition government approved the second package of credit lines worth €20 billion to help self-employed workers and small and medium enterprises on 10 April, the IMF predicted on 13 April that Spain’s economy could decline by 8% as unemployment could skyrocket to 20%.
Distribution of face masks
Spanish health authorities said on 10 April they would provide protective face masks at metro and train stations at the beginning of next week as some non-essential workers head back to the office.
While the government is recommending anyone commuting on public transport to wear masks, those commuting by bike, foot or car do not need to wear masks but are advised to wash their hands and maintain distance.
Strict lockdown pays off
“The data confirmed the stabilisation of the curve, it’s flattening out. We have reached the peak and we are in a phase of slowing down,” said Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa on 7 April, after the country had seen four days of decline in cases. The heath minister also confirmed that authorities would roll out a mass testing plan to examine the level of immunity to COVID-19 among the population, starting with 62,000 tests.
Meanwhile, Bruce Aylward, the head of the WHO mission to Spain, told a Geneva video press conference that the country’s decision to fully confine its roughly 47 million people as a response to the pandemic had been 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.
Country urged to adapt social norms
“We have unfortunately surpassed Italy, but the trends are correct. We are achieving our targets of ensuring that hospitals and ICUs do not become saturated over the weekend,” said chief epidemiologist Fernando Simon, adding that restrictive measures should at least be kept until at least 12 April. The country’s chief epidemiologist suggested following Japan’s approach, which saw success by using protective equipment and limiting contact between people.
Record job losses for March
Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz said 834,000 jobs had been lost in March due to the national lockdown forcing all but essential workers to stay at home until at least 12 April. Spain has prohibited companies from firing employees during the crisis.
“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 said.
In response to the economic crisis affecting a huge number of businesses, 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 and small and medium-sized businesses that have taken a blow since the lockdown.
A drop in incoming patients
While Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska reminded that “fatalities were people who had been infected the confinement measures had come into force,” the head of Spain’s centre for Health Emergencies, Fernando Simón, said that with “ICU admissions decreasing,” the health system will nevertheless attempt to ensure treatment is offered to everyone.
Still, the country has been struggling with hospital beds, ventilators and masks, according to reports from health officials.
Medical sector gears up as it faces pressure
Medical workers continue to test positive to the coronavirus, which is 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 at the moment was the situation in the country’s intensive care units, some of which are already near full capacity. “A patient who becomes infected today will not need an ICU bed until between seven to 10 days from now,” he said.
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 will be in their last years of internships, postgraduate students, as well as senior doctors, already retired are being called to work again.
Faulty equipment and field hospitals
While Spain ordered a shipment of seven million personal protective equipment suits and 1,900 ventilators to arrive in the coming weeks, Health Minister Illa said on 30 March, 9,000 rapid testing kits from China that had arrived on 26 March had failed to meet specifications and had to be returned.
The country also purchased health equipment valued at €432 million, including 550 million masks, 950 ventilators, 5.5 million quick testing kits and 11 million gloves, Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, said on 25 March.
Also, Spain is setting up 16 field hospitals in hotspots and densely populated areas to ease the pressure from overwhelmed hospitals, including in Barcelona and Spain, 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.