The Catalan government has approved the partial amendment of a decree-law on urgent measures to combat the coronavirus to adapt it to a royal decree approved by the central government. According to government spokesperson Meritxell Budó, the amended legal instrument includes new economic measures that are broader in scope.
With respect to procurement, the amendment broadens the scope of compensation in cases when contracts must be suspended. Compensation will now include rental costs and costs related to the maintenance of facilities and equipment during the period of suspension. Minister Budó said: “Payments for contracted services will be maintained while contracts are suspended, and when the suspension is lifted the amount of these payments will be deducted from the total compensation paid.” The payment on account of compensation is intended to maintain jobs linked to the affected contracts and avoid lay-offs.
The amended decree includes measures aimed at protecting recipients of grants, especially in the cultural, occupational, sports and social spheres, from negative impacts related to the coronavirus outbreak.
In the area of taxation, water rates will be reduced by 50% for all domestic users as well as those in industry, economic activities and livestock farming.
The amendment approved by the Executive Council yesterday also introduces some changes to the €1bn line of credit provided by the Catalan Finance Institute (ICF)–Avalis to meet the working capital needs of companies and self-employed workers adversely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Working group to mobilise Catalan industry
The Catalan government spokesperson explained the new measures that the Executive Council has adopted to mitigate the economic and social effects of the coronavirus health crisis. Budó said: “A working group will be created to mobilise Catalan industry and harness the entire business fabric to produce supplies in Catalonia to combat the coronavirus.”
The Minister of the Presidency also called on the central government to take measures to ensure a basic income for all citizens during the crisis. Budó said this measure would also facilitate compliance with the stay-at-home order in effect.
To maintain jobs and ensure the viability of economic activities, the government spokesperson also called for the suspension of tax, mortgage, and rent payments, as well as payments on loans and for gas, water and electricity, noting that measures of this kind are being adopted in other European countries. The European Commission has suspended the Stability and Growth Pact rules to enable member states to do whatever it takes to tackle the pandemic, mitigate the social impact of the current crisis, and rebuild the economic fabric. Minister Budó said the central government should urgently adopt similar measures by eliminating deficit objectives and spending limits.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Buch, reported on police actions aimed at ensuring compliance with the lockdown in effect and cited figures that show a significant drop in traffic in and out of the metropolitan area of Barcelona (over 60% on Tuesday).
Buch reported that 1,432 local and regional police officers were in quarantine and 44 had tested positive for the coronavirus. The minister also said that the Catalan Ministry of Business has a website where companies can offer supplies and services and share work that they are doing to combat the coronavirus.
In response to a question on the need for the Spanish army to get involved in the crisis response in Catalonia, the minister said it was not anticipated that the assistance of the armed forces would be required, but that the matter would be given further consideration should the need arise.
Health minister Alba Vergés said that Catalonia will double its ICU capacity this week and triple capacity from next week. Vergés stressed that boosting capacity was essential to provide care for COVID-19 patients in serious condition.
The minister reported that spaces outside hospitals were being prepared to meet the goal of tripling ICU beds. “Right now, we have almost 1,000 ICU beds in Catalonia. Of these, 658 are occupied by coronavirus patients, 538 of whom require invasive mechanical ventilation.”
Mild coronavirus cases will be dealt with via the primary care system. The minister said primary care staff would make home visits for these cases as well as providing “essential support to residential homes for the elderly and people with disabilities”.
Residential homes for the elderly, disabled and mental health patients a priority
The health minister stressed that residential homes for the elderly, disabled and mental health patients are a priority because of the particular vulnerability of these groups. She said various measures were being considered to reinforce the professional teams at residences, and that steps were being taken to provide more protective equipment to prevent contagion and protect staff.
50,000 face masks and gloves for residential homes for the elderly
To combat the coronavirus in residential homes, improve care for those infected and prevent staff from becoming infected, Vergés said that 50,000 masks and gloves had been distributed to residential care services last weekend and that the distribution of supplies would continue this week.
During the press briefing, Vergés said: “Although the number of coronavirus cases will continue to rise, all indications are that the transmission rate has been falling since we started applying the first measures.” She stressed that “a total lockdown with home confinement is the best tool we have to fight the pandemic”.
As for the provision of protective equipment for health workers, Vergés said that over 800,000 surgical masks and about 40,000 gowns had been delivered on Monday and Tuesday and that supplies would continue to arrive in the coming days and weeks. The minister thanked health professionals for the “colossal effort” they are making, particularly in terms of bedside care. She reported that 1,346 health professionals in Catalonia had tested positive for the coronavirus, including 140 in Igualada, one of the hotspots in Catalonia.
Finally, Vergés encouraged citizens to provide information on their health status via the StopCovid19Cat app, which is available for various operating systems and mobile devices. So far, the app has facilitated the transfer to hospital of 200 individuals in serious condition.
Volunteer bank for public employees on leave
The Catalan government is setting up a public employee volunteer bank so that certain staff on leave can telework and provide technical and administrative support to the Catalan Ministries of Health and Home Affairs.