ANALYSIS: Is Spain heading for another national lockdown?

ANALYSIS: Is Spain heading for another national lockdown?
Photos: AFP
Spain is poised to introduce drastic measures aimed at curbing the rampaging coronavirus as infections reach the one million milestone. Graham Keeley explores the possibilities of what may come next.

Spain's health minister signalled this week that even tougher measures were needed to combat the surge in cases in the coronavirus pandemic.

“The second wave is a reality. In many areas of our country, the epidemic is out of control,” Salvador Illa told Spanish radio.

“I insist we have to take drastic measures, as do several regions.”

Hearing these words brought a sense of déjà vu because we have, of course, all been here before.

Last time round, the government brought in a national lockdown for three months between March and June.

The question is, could Spain and other countries be heading back to that last-ditch solution: another national state of emergency?

Localised curfews, like those in France and other European countries with lower infection rates, are a distinct possibility.

As I write, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez is due to give a statement today about measures to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Last month, Mr Sanchez appeared on Spanish television and ruled out the possibility of a second national lockdown.

However, since then Spain has doubled the number of coronavirus cases in the past six weeks, going from 500,000 to this week becoming the first country in Western Europe to have recorded more than one million cases of the virus.

Already several regions have brought in restrictions including telling restaurants to shut down earlier than usual or forcing them to operate only as takeaways.

Granada and the regions of Valencia and Castilla y León all appear to be heading for curfews.

Mr Illa seemed determined to ram home how much worse things are about to get as winter draws in.

“We are at the doorstep of winter, when most activities are carried out indoors, when probability of virus contagion is higher. We cannot lower our guard,” he said.

“The horizon we have been discussing with technicians from the ministry and European colleagues is five to six very hard months ahead.”

However hard things may be about to get, analysts believe a full lockdown would solve nothing.

Javier Díaz, an economist at the IESE School of Business in Madrid, is convinced the Spanish government will resist this move.

“If they try to do that there is going to be brutal resistance. People are feeling the economic pain very badly. This has been worse than the Great Depression,” he said.

“What would be the point of another national lockdown? They did that before and look at the mess that we have ended up in now just a few months later.”

Opposition to any fresh clampdown on public liberties came earlier this month in the bitter political row between the left-wing government and Madrid's conservative administration.

They spent weeks sparring over how to cut the soaring transmission rate in the Spanish capital before the central government finally put its foot down and enforced a partial lockdown in Madrid and eight other towns.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid's regional president, opposed this measure, insisting it would wreck the capital's already battered economy.

As the partial lockdown in the Madrid region comes to an end this weekend, new restrictions are on the cards.

As is the case elsewhere in Europe, it seems authorities both national and regional must tread a careful line between protecting the public health and restricting our right to earn a crust.

Key to Spain's considerations will no doubt be the fact the economy is predicted to contract by 12.8 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, a figure which was higher than the initial forecast of the government.

If the IMF is correct, Spain will fare worse than other major eurozone economies.

Earlier in the summer, demonstrators took to the streets in cities across Spain to oppose the lockdown and accused the Spanish prime minister of being a 'Big Brother' figure in giant posters draped from flats in Madrid.

Guillermo Rocafort, a lawyer and writer, said any attempt to impose new restrictions would infringe basic rights of movement enshrined in the 1978 Spanish constitution.

“If the government agrees to another state of emergency for a period of 15 days, parliament will have to agree to this,” he said.

“A curfew would affect fundamental rights like the right to move freely defended in the constitution.”

Until now many measures to halt the progress of the pandemic in Spain have been hampered because of bickering in Spain's polarized political environment.

The conservative People's Party (PP) , which leads the opposition, have used any chance to attack the government's handling of the public health crisis.

However, Pablo Casado, the PP leader, used a remarkable speech to condemn the far-right Vox party, which had launched a no confidence motion in the government.

It appeared to show a new spirit of consensus in the country's fractured politics but these are early days. 

Critics have said it was a flash in the pan. 

 

 

Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley

 


 

 

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