Spain pledges more economic support as epidemic slows

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s cabinet approved measures to support workers and businesses struggling under stringent coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday as officials cheered a slowing infection rate.

The latest 24-hour tallies took fatalities to 21,282 and infections to 204,178 – but they represented just a 2% increase, fuelling optimism the crisis may be waning at last.

Monday’s 399 deaths was the lowest number since March 22.

“With each passing day we are managing to slow the spread of the virus a little more,” government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero told a news conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

The package of measures included an extension of unemployment benefits and modifications to the tax code that should free up 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) in liquidity to support small businesses and the self-employed.

Despite allowing some businesses to reopen last week, Spain remains under one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns with millions cooped up at home and not even allowed out for exercise.

Children under the age of 14, who were previously barred from leaving homes under any circumstance, may now accompany parents on essential trips such as to buy food or medicine.

However, they still cannot play outside or travel alone.

“We are not relaxing confinement restrictions. Adults are responsible for making sure their children stick to the rules,” government spokeswoman Montero said. “Our priority is to avoid any potential setback in the fight against the virus.”

There had been growing calls to let children out, including from Colombian pop singer Shakira who lives in Barcelona with footballer Gerard Pique and their two children.


The epidemic has also wrought severe economic damage, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and data pointing to an incipient slowdown in the real-estate market.

In the latest gloomy forecast, the research unit of Spanish bank BBVA said it expected the economy to contract 8% in 2020 before recovering 5.7% next year, under the assumption the lockdown will end in late May.

Still, Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz said the services and agricultural sectors recorded a modest net creation of jobs in mid-April. The government has encouraged locals to work on the fields to harvest crops as border shutdowns has meant farmers lack seasonal migrant labourers to gather produce.

Meanwhile, sausage skin maker Viscofan said it would pay a bonus of 1,000 euros to staff working through the epidemic.

In the latest blow to Spain’s crucial tourist industry, authorities in the northern city of Pamplona called off the annual San Fermin bull-running festival which draws thousands every year.

It was the first time the week-long party had been fully suspended since 1978 during Spain’s turbulent transition to democracy after the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

On a positive note, Equality Minister Irene Montero rejoined other ministers in a video-link cabinet meeting after recovering from the coronavirus.

Her participation in March 8 Women’s Day rallies, alongside other government members who later contracted the disease, had caused widespread criticism in Spain.

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