Catalan government ministers gave a press briefing today to provide updates on the latest developments in the fight against COVID-19 and report on the measures that the Catalan executive is taking to mitigate the effects of the outbreak. The Minister of the Presidency and government spokesperson, Meritxell Budó; the Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Buch; and the Minister of Health, Alba Vergés all reiterated a call for Catalans to stay at home and only go out when absolutely necessary.
Minister Budó expressed concern about “reports that state-level police forces are requisitioning medical supplies destined for Catalan hospitals”. She called on the Spanish Minister of Health to provide clarification and inform the public “what requisitions are being made, where the supplies are going, and how they will be distributed”.
In reference to various requests made to the central government, Budó lamented that Prime Minister Sánchez has not responded to a letter sent by President Torra, in which he calls for a mandatory lockdown. The minister stressed the need for the Spanish government to “authorise a total lockdown of Catalonia. Only this measure will enable us to act quickly and effectively to tackle the pandemic. Every hour that goes by is an hour lost in the fight against the coronavirus.” She said failure to implement a lockdown would lead to more people becoming infected and more hospitalisations.
The Catalan government is aware that this health crisis will hit vulnerable people especially hard. The Ministry of Territory will therefore establish a moratorium on rent payments for residents of public housing managed by the Catalan Housing Agency.
Minister Budó also announced that a number of services have been reorganised to ensure support for women affected by gender-based violence during the period of home confinement. The minister said women can call a 24-hour helpline managed by the Catalan Institute for Women (900 900 120). Support is also available by email at email@example.com.
The government spokesperson also said there had been a significant decrease in use of public transport as a result of the instructions issued for people to stay at home (between 70% and 95% depending on the line and time of day).
Budó welcomed the measures to address the effects of the coronavirus that were announced yesterday by the central government and said the Catalan government is studying the initiative. However, she said that while the measures include a moratorium on mortgage payments, there was no similar support for renters, suggesting that failure to ease pressure on this group, as the Catalan government has, could lead to more evictions. As for the measures to support self-employed workers, she said: “The main state-level association of self-employed workers considers the measures inadequate, and the president of the association has called for the suspension of social security payments by self-employed workers.”
The Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Buch, reported on measures aimed at enforcing the home confinement order, including the identification of individuals and vehicles, the filing of police reports on individuals and commercial establishments, and the closure of establishments. Buch also said that as of 11am this morning there had been a 51% decrease in the number of vehicles leaving the metropolitan area of Barcelona and a 54% drop in the number of vehicles entering the zone.
The minister also reiterated the importance of calling the 112 helpline only for emergencies.
In relation to the requests sent to the Spanish government, Buch said: “We’re waiting for a reply to our two requests: to lift the perimeter lockdown of Conca d’Òdena and to make home confinement mandatory in Catalonia. Once again, we’re requesting authorisation for home confinement so that we can clear up doubts citizens have and act more decisively against COVID-19. The Royal Decree issued by the Spanish government is generating a lot of confusion.”
The minister said: “The lockdown we’ve asked for isn’t a matter of ideology or borders. The Catalan government proposed this measure to ensure the safety of all Catalans, and the objective is the same one we’ve been pursuing from day one: to stop the spread of the virus.”
The Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, said that she and the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Families, Chakir el Homrani, have sent a letter to Catalan employers’ associations to channel offers of support from various companies. She said steps would be taken to ensure a systematic approach and make material and assistance available to the health system.
Minister Vergés also reiterated her complaint about medical supplies being held up at companies and seized from hospitals on the pretext of centralising purchasing in Madrid. “In this kind of crisis, centralising is the worst decision. We need to let hospitals do their work and decentralise,” said the minister after citing the example of 4000 masks that were to be delivered to the Igualada Hospital, but which have been held up as a result of measures ordered by the central government.
Finally, the Minister of Health called once again for the Spanish government to authorise a general lockdown of all of Catalonia. “We don’t understand how at a time of crisis, when time matters, the implementation of decisions we’ve taken in Catalonia to protect our citizens can be held up in this way. There’s no scientific justification for blocking the decision to impose a general lockdown.”
Vergés said the general lockdown of Catalonia is a recommendation made by the Catalan civil protection service (PROCICAT) and stressed that “having people stay at home is one of the best ways to fight the coronavirus”.