Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez argued in the Lower House of Parliament that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic demands strengthening the public health system and Welfare State. He also underlined the importance of overcoming the maximum spread of the disease as quickly as possible, along with the falls in both production and jobs, to then undertake the economic and social reconstruction.
In compliance with Article 116 of the Constitution, Sánchez appeared Wednesday before the plenary session of the Lower House to report on the Royal Decree declaring the state of emergency given the crisis caused by COVID-19. Pedro Sánchez described this pandemic as an “unprecedented challenge”, “a global threat that recognises no borders, colours or languages”, and an “extraordinary challenge that forces us to take exceptional measures”. To combat this virus that has changed our way of living together and created so many uncertainties, he said, we must act by employing all our public and collective strengths.
Sánchez explained that back in January the government began to take steps to prevent the contagion and, following the guidelines of experts, activated a health monitoring protocol and ongoing release of transparent information. In February and the first week of March, a contention phase was underway, which was then raised to strengthened contention. Circumstances finally demanded moving to a mitigation phase with a three-fold objective: to priorities the protection of those more exposed to the disease, to ring-fence the capacities of the health system and to combat transmission.
The declaration of the state of emergency, remarked Pedro Sánchez, is necessary to safeguard the health of citizens and protect the productive structure by mobilising all the resources available under the principle of unity of action. In this regard, Sánchez praised the attitude of those in charge of the regional governments and cities -with whom he held a meeting by video-conference on Sunday – and of the leaders of the opposition parties, with whom he has spoken.
Pedro Sánchez highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has overrun all the forecasts, including those of the World Health Organization, and that the response to the crisis cannot be static; it must be dynamic. The government, he added, has acted at all times by weighing up compliance with scientific indications, preventing socio-economic alarm and guaranteeing the rule of law is upheld.
Strengthening the Welfare State
The first lesson to come out of this emergency, argued Sánchez, is the need to protect the public health system and strengthen the Welfare State. “This is our most valuable asset as a country; it is the greatest conquest of our democracy, together with democracy itself, and is the greatest collective achievement that we should cherish”.
Pedro Sánchez announced that when this emergency situation is over, the government will set up a Study and Evaluation Committee to analyse the situation of the public health system and to draw up a White Paper to ensure that it is well-scaled and implemented throughout the country. He also underlined that good healthcare requires the efficient use of resources but also the necessary financing that can only be provided by a fair tax system. “When an emergency like this comes along we see the deficiencies more clearly but they are present every day”, he stated.
Sánchez stressed that the pandemic is also revealing the importance of implementing distance learning as much as possible and of resolving the delay in the full application of the Long-term Care Act, in this term of office.
Support for workers, families and companies
Pedro Sánchez argued that the health emergency is also an economic and social emergency due to the temporary contraction of a good part of the productive system and the closure of borders. The goal is to sustain levels of employment and the productive structure for as long as the crisis lasts so that afterwards we can quickly recover.
Sánchez specified the initiatives that the government has already undertaken to act on all these fronts. The first measures of an economic and public health nature were adopted on 10 March; on 12 March a Royal Decree-Law was approved to strengthen healthcare and support families, business owners and tourism; on 14 March the state of emergency was declared, and the Council of Ministers presented on Tuesday a raft of actions with a view to the economic and social consequences of COVID-19.
“We are not going to leave anyone behind, particularly not the most vulnerable, the elderly, families with the fewest resources, the self-employed, small business owners or workers that depend on their payslip”, said Pedro Sánchez, who also stressed that both supplies to the public and essential services are guaranteed.
With this same spirit, the government will present an “economic and social reconstruction Budget”, to strengthen public services and protect families and companies, announced Pedro Sánchez. In order to approve this National Budget, the government wants to count on the support and collaboration of all the political forces.
Sánchez also reviewed the decisions of the four ministers designated as the competent delegate authorities in their respective areas of responsibility during the state of emergency (Defence; Home Affairs; Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda; and Health). Among other measures, he mentioned the increase in the number of healthcare professionals, the re-opening of border controls with France and Portugal, the activation of the Emergency Military Unit for duties in various cities and the adaptation of the public transport service.
Unity, coordination and responsibility
The goal, declared Pedro Sánchez, is “to defeat the virus and once it is vanquished, to begin rebuilding”. On the health front, there are still days ahead of us before we overcome the peak of the spread of the disease, and the sooner we reach that point, the closer we will get to our final goal, he argued. And at a social and economic level, it is pressing to stop the fall in production and jobs to thus re-launch them as soon as possible afterwards.
Sánchez called for this to be achieved through political unity, coordination and cooperation between all public authorities, and a sense of State from public representatives. He also underlined the importance of responsibility and social discipline. “We all have a mission. Our health professionals that protect us all have one, at the highest level; our public authorities that must provide us with resources and coordination have one; the elderly, who must take extreme care, have one; our young people, who must keep their social distance and contribute their creative energy, have one, and every citizen, by looking after themselves and thus caring for the rest of the community, have one”, he stressed.
Pedro Sánchez pointed out that “the toughest phase is yet to come”, but expressed his conviction that the Spanish people will overcome this crisis by giving an example of resistance, of a collective struggle and social greatness. “We are much more than 47 million people living in the same country by chance; we are a community. A community that, with several tongues and accents, is fighting for the same cause – to halt and defeat this virus together. That is how we will win”, he claimed.