The Minister of the Presidency and government spokesperson, Meritxell Budó; the Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Buch; and the Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, gave a video-link press briefing today to provide an update on the coronavirus outbreak and report on measures being taken by the Catalan government.
The Catalan government welcomed the central government’s decision to implement a total lockdown but warned of the economic consequences of the health crisis and called for immediate action on this front. Minister Budó said that “the vast majority” of the economic decisions taken so far by the Spanish government place the burden on companies and workers. “It’s the state that should be taking on debt and dealing with the economic dimension of this crisis, not companies or workers.”
The government spokesperson called for a “tax lockdown” and said such a measure was needed to “reassure the public, ensure the survival of economic activity, and maintain jobs so that we can mitigate the social impact of the pandemic.” The Catalan government has called for various measures, including a universal basic income for workers during the lockdown; support, in the form of loans and liquidity, for SMEs, companies and the self-employed; suspending payment of taxes, social security contributions, rent and charges for utilities; broadening the scope of force majeure so that companies can make temporary lay-offs; and eliminating the deficit objective and ceiling for expenditure so that governments can devote more resources to mitigating the effects of the crisis. Minister Budó said many EU member states are already applying similar measures.
The government spokesperson lamented that the decree ordering a total lockdown and specifying what companies and sectors are considered essential (and therefore exempted) was only published in the Official Journal of the Spanish State at 11.35pm yesterday. Budó said this was another example of the “very poor management” of the crisis and that the delay had caused “unease for thousands of workers”.
Budó said an online form would be made available so that manufacturers who must continue to operate can report the details of their activity.
Catalan Employment Service
The Catalan Employment Service has tripled its staff for phone and online service in response to a large increase in queries concerning temporary lay-offs, Catalonia’s guaranteed minimum income, and the process of registering as jobseekers.
Update from Minister Buch
The Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Buch, reported on police actions aimed at ensuring compliance with the stay-at-home order currently in effect.
He also cited data that indicate a decline of approximately 75% in traffic in and out of the metropolitan area of Barcelona. Buch said there had been a significant decrease in traffic in and out of the metropolitan area compared to last Monday (over 30%) as a result of the Spanish government ordering enhanced lockdown measures.
As for the availability of essential goods, the minister said: “We’re in constant contact with pharmaceutical companies, the food sector and logistic centres. They assure us that supplies are guaranteed, so people can shop as they normally would; there’s no need to hoard.”
In response to a question about the lockdown of the Òdena Basin, an infection hotspot in Catalonia, the minister said: “The experts recommend that we maintain the lockdown and that’s what they we’ll do until they say otherwise.”
Update from Minister Vergés
The Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, said that this week the ministry will concentrate on setting up all the necessary equipment in the spaces that have been made available to the Catalan health system to care for Covid-19 patients. The minister said attention would also focus on projects aimed at manufacturing equipment such as ventilators in Catalonia in order to determine which could be implemented in patient care settings. “Apart from ensuring the clinical effectiveness of equipment and supplies, we need to make sure they can be produced quickly on an industrial scale to tackle the pandemic.”
“This week will be another challenging one. That’s why we’ve prepared new patient care spaces. A huge mobilisation is under way to ensure that we’re able to care for everyone,” Vergés said.
The minister reported that 290 patients are being treated in hotels; 117 health professionals will also be accommodated in hotels; and 22 patients are receiving care at a temporary facility set up near Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron Hospital. The minister said that Catalonia currently has over 1,700 ICU beds, 84% of which are for Covid-19 patients.