The Catalan government has adopted a decree-law on new budgetary measures related to the health emergency.

The Catalan government has adopted a decree-law on new budgetary measures related to the health emergency. The decree provides for the Catalan Ministry of Health to oversee efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in care homes for the elderly, introduces measures to ensure the economic stability of health system entities on the front-line in the fight against the pandemic, bolsters a contingency fund to cover extraordinary expenditures related to the health emergency, and reduces water rates for camp-sites and hotels.

The new measures were reported by the Minister of the Presidency, Meritxell Budó, in a press briefing following an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council. The Minister of the Interior, Miquel Buch, and the Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, also provided updates on the coronavirus outbreak in Catalonia.

The decree-law adopted yesterday provides for a reorganisation of ministerial functions and responsibilities aimed at facilitating an urgent response to the impact of the pandemic on care home residents in Catalonia. The Catalan Ministry of Health will now take the lead in supervising these facilities and will determine where residents are accommodated and what measures are taken to isolate them where necessary. 

The decree-law also provides for the bolstering of the Catalan government’s contingency fund to cover expenditures related to the coronavirus outbreak. Minister Budó said this was a temporary measure that would remain in place until two months after the lifting of the state of emergency.

Given the particular vulnerability of the elderly, people with disabilities and other residents of social care centres, the Catalan Ministry of Health will assume responsibility for this area.

Measures related to the comprehensive system that integrates Catalan public-use health networks

Finally, the decree-law provides for measures to ensure the economic stability of the comprehensive system that integrates Catalan public-use health networks (SISCAT) so that entities on the front line in the fight against the pandemic can focus on this task.

Face masks available in pharmacies on 20 April

Minister Budó said that 1.5 million face masks purchased by the Catalan government for use by the public will be available in Catalan pharmacies on 20 April. The government spokesperson said the first members of the public who should request face masks are “vulnerable people and employees returning to work outside their homes”.  

President Torra’s message to the Spanish government

The Minister of the Presidency also reported that President Quim Torra had sent a message to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez asking to explain the real reasons why he refused to extend the strict lockdown as requested by the Catalan government and recommended by “the large majority of scientists and experts, including the WHO”.

Budú said that members of the scientific committee that advises the Spanish government did not know what the state was planning to do. “And today we’ve learned that some of them apparently have serious reservations about the decision that’s been adopted, about which they were not consulted. […] We need to know if the central government’s decision to allow people to go back to work on Tuesday is based on scientific and medical criteria or driven by strictly economic considerations.” The minister said the Catalan government believes it is essential to strictly follow health and scientific criteria and the recommendations of experts in the field. “If the lifting of the lockdown isn’t handled properly, we could end up with a second lockdown and new infections,” she said.

Unemployment benefits for laid-off workers

The Minister of the Presidency decried that “as a result of the administrative collapse of the ministry, the vast majority of workers who’ve been temporary laid-off haven’t been paid their unemployment benefits”. Budó called on the central government to take steps to ensure that all laid-off workers receive the benefit payments they are entitled to as soon as possible.

Update from the Catalan Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Buch

  • The Catalan police continue to take action to strictly enforce the total lockdown.
  • 500 road checkpoints will be set up and 2,000 officers deployed to prevent unauthorised travel during Holy Week.
  • “Stay home. It’s the only way we can beat the coronavirus.”

Update from the Catalan Minister of Health, Alba Vergés

  • 1,600 additional staff have been recruited to the Catalan health system since the start of the epidemic: 237 doctors from abroad, 351 medical students, 222 nursing students, 486 professionals in other health professions, and nearly 300 retired health workers.
  • Serological tests have been delivered. The first priority will be to test care home residents and staff. The availability of these tests will free up PCR tests for other uses.
  • Residents of smaller care homes have been transferred to facilities where they can be properly quarantined.
  • Any private clinics and centres offering PCR tests as a paid service will be required to make these tests available to the public health system.