MADRID – The Spanish government approved a fresh package of economic relief measures to mitigate the negative effects of the full suspension of non-essential activities that began on Tuesday as part of the country’s efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
“What is approved today is a safety net that protects our society,” Economy Minister Nadia Calviño said at a press conference.
The council of ministers has approved a set of measures to provide a “social shield” to the threat of the spread of the virus, said Pablo Iglesias, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Rights.
Following the expert advice to reduce social contact and mobility of people to a minimum, as of Tuesday the government has suspended all non-essential activities until April 9.
“We must also offer people the security to face this exceptional period, and that is what this decree aims to do,” Iglesias added.
Among the new measures approved by the cabinet is an aid plan for people who now find themselves unable to meet rental payments and a deferral of social security payments for people who are self-employed and for small to medium-sized businesses.
People unable to meet rental payments, such as those who have been provisionally laid off, those who are unemployed or self-employed persons who have suffered a severe reduction in monthly income as a result of the health crisis will be offered zero-interest credits to tide them over the coming months.
This solution will be offered to tenants with landlords who have one or two homes for rent and who earn a living in this way.
People who have a large property portfolio will be asked to give tenants a four-month moratorium on payments to be paid on a pro-rata basis once the crisis subsides over the course of three years.
All evictions will be suspended from Tuesday until six months after the state of alarm was announced.
“No one can be kicked out of their home,” Iglesias said.
An extension of the mortgage moratorium already in place to include self-employed persons who have been affected by the state of alarm’s strict confinement measures has also been applied.
Temporary subsidies of some 440 euros a month for domestic workers or temporary workers who have been forced to stop working will be made available.
Amid the suspension of non-essential activities, Calviño said it was necessary to avoid entering a stagnant situation that would extend the period of economic hibernation leading to a longer and harder recovery.
For this, sectors that cannot grind to an absolute halt have informed the government of the minimum personnel required to avoid stagnation.
Workers who continue to operate will be required to travel with a permission issued by the company.
“These measures are intended to reduce the mobility of people, not economic activity,” the Economy Minister added.
The decree of 50 measures came as Spain reported the largest single-day increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths.
Since the first infections in the country were recorded in late January, the coronavirus epidemic has spread rapidly to 94,417 cases, Maria Jose Sierra, spokesperson of the Coordination Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies, told reporters on Tuesday.
The number of deaths has increased on Monday’s figures reaching 8,189, with 849 deaths in the last 24 hours.
The previous highest death toll in a single day was the 838 reported on Sunday.
Sierra said the spike in the number of infections and deaths with respect to the previous day was due to “an accumulation of weekend cases that were reported to the ministry last night.”
The surge has placed Spain as the second most affected country in the world after Italy and ahead of China, where the virus originated.
Despite the alarming figures, experts are hopeful the slight slowdown in the number of infections in previous days could mean the peak is within sight.
Some critics have suggested that owing to the higher number of infections recorded on Tuesday the confinement measures that are in place should be extended.
But Fernando Simon, head of Spain’s center for Health Emergencies, who tuned into the press conference remotely after testing positive for COVID-19, did not agree.
“There is no point in proposing more measures now (…) We cannot take new measures without first assessing, even minimally, the impact of those that we are implementing,” he said.
Optimistic messages from authorities were further marred by complaints from health care workers over lack of material and protective equipment.
The sector has been badly hit with over 12,000 professionals contracting the virus.
Intensive care units are operating at 80 percent capacity in Barcelona and Madrid.
Multiple secondary field clinics have been set up in the hotspots and densely populated areas, including the capital city region and Barcelona, to ease the pressure on hospitals which are close to becoming overwhelmed.