The president of the Government of Catalonia, Quim Torra, said yesterday that “governments have an inescapable duty to bear the cost of the economic and social crisis that will be triggered by the coronavirus pandemic rather than making citizens and companies pay the bill”. He stressed: “All of the resources governments have at their disposal must be deployed to support our citizens and companies.”
In an interview on the radio station Ser Catalunya, President Torra called on all levels of government, particularly the Spanish state, to do whatever it takes to reassure workers and companies. “If we were able to save the banks by spending €60 billion, now we need to save the best thing we have: our people.”
The president said the Catalan government would take on as much debt as necessary to give people the help they need. “We need people to have money in their pockets so that they can afford to buy basic food items and to ensure that the economic crisis doesn’t lead to a social crisis.” Torra once again called on the Spanish government to implement stronger measures, such as “universal coverage for workers, a guaranteed income for citizens, and the suspension of taxes and social security payments by the self-employed.” The president said the response needed to be ramped up: “If we do all this in a concentrated, forceful way, as quickly as possible, we’ll have more time to recover. Otherwise, the situation will get even more complicated because things will start to fall apart as we’re seeing in Italy.”
Catalan laboratories and research centres to produce rapid tests
The president lamented that the Catalan government is providing 90% of the resources being used to tackle the crisis, with only 10% coming from the central government. He said that in the coming weeks it would be difficult to count on having any supplies other than those that can be produced in Catalonia.
Torra stressed that one of the government’s priorities is to have a plan for mass testing that is ready to deploy when the infection curve starts to bend downwards. “We’ve done 50,000 PCR tests and have 25,000 that we’re starting to distribute today, but that’s not enough even to get started. We’re facing a huge challenge. We need to find as many rapid tests as possible and figure out how we can produce them in Catalonia.”
To pursue this objective, the head of the government announced that all Catalan laboratories and research centres will be opened so that they can also produce rapid tests. Following a complex adaptation process, these facilities are now ready to start this work. The goal is to produce over 100,000 tests in the next few weeks. Several Catalan research centres are already leading or actively participating in some of the most significant scientific projects aimed at minimising the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We need to mobilise all of the resources that exist in Catalonia,” Torra said, noting that since the central government took control of procurement of supplies, the Catalan government has received only 8–10% of the material it is using. “That means we have to fend for ourselves in the international market,” the president explained. Essential medical supplies are also being produced by over 1,100 Catalan companies that have adapted their production processes to meet this pressing need. The head of the executive expressed his gratitude for this support from civil society and encouraged other companies in Catalonia that have the right capabilities to join this effort.
Given the need to maximise the resources available to tackle the crisis triggered by the coronavirus outbreak, the president called on opposition parliamentary groups to approve the Catalan government’s budget for this year. “We’ll make whatever changes are needed and are open to renegotiating the content.” The president stressed that approving the budget would make an additional €3bn available to the Catalan government to cover expenditures and meet investment needs during this critical period. Torra also called on the central government to authorise an increase of two or three percentage points in the deficit margin that Spain’s autonomous communities are subject to.
“Care homes have been one of the Catalan government’s top priorities”
At another point in the interview, the president recognised that the Catalan government had probably not done a good job of keeping the public informed of the situation in care homes for the elderly and steps being taken to address challenges in these facilities. While acknowledging that poor communication had generated a degree of distrust and anxiety about what is happening in these facilities, Torra stressed that “care homes have been one of the Catalan government’s top priorities”.