The Spanish government plans to bring Spain out of lockdown by the end of this month, if all goes well. But how does this work, and what happens next? Here’s your guide to the near future.
For weeks, Spain has been waiting for Saturday night speeches and Official Bulletins to find out what is going to happen next, but to understand where we are, it’s necessary to understand what happened.
THE STATE OF ALARM
Spain is ruled by the national government in Madrid, currently a precarious coalition led by Pedro Sánchez of Spain’s PSOE socialist party. However, Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, each ruled by its own government, which has wideranging powers.
On the 14th March, Sánchez received approval from Spain’s parliament to declare a State of Alarm in response to the coronavirus crisis. This removed many of the powers from regional government and gave them to Madrid.
Overnight, all of Spain was subjected to one of the strictest lockdown regimes in the world, with citizens ordered to stay at home apart from essential journeys. These measures were a response to one of the worst health crises in the world – Spain has registered almost 29,000 deaths at the time of writing.
The State of Alarm is a powerful constitutional tool, and the powers it grants to central government are so wide-ranging that it is only granted for two-week intervals. Consequently, Sánchez has had to seek approval in congress for five extensions to date.
Each time he has found this more difficult. Regions who dislike the “one-size fits all” approach want the power to make their own decisions back, and the calls from the business sector to leave lockdown and get the economy going again have become stronger and stronger.
There is a political element to this, too. The Canaries, for example are run by a coalition led by the Canarian socialists, and they are generally likely to back their party colleagues in Madrid. However, other regions have been heavily critical of the government.
THE EXIT STRATEGY
In April, the lockdown continued with few changes. Certain workers, in construction and industry, were allowed to return to work and children were permitted to take short walks with adults. The horrors of late March and early April decreased and new cases of COVID 19 started to fall as weeks of lockdown finally began to take effect.
On 28th April, Sánchez announced a four stage deescalation plan that would be followed throughout Spain. At the time of his announcement, he declared that the whole country was in Phase 0, the preparatory phase, and added new freedoms to that phase, including allowing all citizens to leave their homes to exercise in clearly defined time-slots.
On May 4th, the Canary Islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa, none of which had active COVID 19 cases, entered Phase 1. A week later, the rest of the Canaries and much of Spain followed, although the epidemic’s progress and management in Madrid and Barcelona held them back in Phase 0.
Phase 1 permitted small businesses to open, allowed restaurants to serve people on outdoor terraces and permitted people to meet friends and family. Transport restrictions were relaxed and the exercise time-slots continued. At last, something resembling normal life returned to much of Spain.
On 25th May, the Canaries entered Phase 2, with greater freedoms which permitted all shops and shopping centres to open, restaurants to serve indoors and the recommencement of cultural events such as concerts and certain sporting events.
If the Canaries continue their excellent progress in controlling coronavirus, and if Pedro Sánchez succeeds in winning one further extension for the State of Alarm, the Canaries will enter Phase 3 on June 8th, and will leave the exit plan to the “new normality” by June 21st.