May 19, 2020 / 9:03 AM / 13 days ago

Though pandemic ebbing, Spain seeks two-week extension of emergency state

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s government is to ask parliament for a two-week extension of a state of emergency in place since mid-March to help battle one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a sculpture wearing traditional "Chulapo" attire and a mask as she leaves a lottery shop amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid, Spain, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Even though COVID-19 deaths and infections have been ebbing, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government wanted the decree granting it exceptional powers to continue until the end of June when a national lockdown should be largely eased.

But with support for his left-wing coalition waning both in parliament and among the public, cabinet instead opted on Tuesday for an extension until June 6 from the next expiry on May 24, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero confirmed.

The compromise came in a last-minute agreement with the centre-right Ciudadanos party, whose 10 lawmakers will back the shorter extension in exchange for a commitment to study how the crisis can be handled in future without an emergency state.

“Without the state of emergency, the government has no capacity to restrict the mobility of the whole population,” Montero said.

At the peak of the outbreak, Spain was losing hundreds of citizens a day as stretched hospitals and care homes struggled to treat patients, but on Tuesday it reported deaths of under 100 for the third consecutive day.

The 83 new fatalities took the total to 27,778, with overall reported infections at 232,037.

Also on Tuesday, Spain lifted a ban on direct flights and ships from Italy but retained a block on cruise ships and a two-week quarantine for all travellers from abroad along with the state of emergency. That means a further wait for the tourism-dependent economy to welcome holidaymakers back.

The travel sector is a large driver of the gross domestic product, which the central bank fears could contract between 9.5%-12.4% in 2020.

A new poll showed the pandemic was Spaniards’ biggest worry, with most likely to change habits when they are free to move.

Just 14% of those surveyed by the government’s Centre for Sociological Studies planned to travel abroad when the lockdown is lifted. Big purchases are also on hold - only 4.2% were thinking about buying a new car and 3.4% a house.

Bars and restaurants will have to coax back the 30% of people who said they preferred not eat outside their homes.

While the poll reported 48.4% of Spaniards do not trust the government, it showed 75% want to leave criticism aside for now.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Belén Carreño; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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