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Spain's Sanchez sees coronavirus pain easing, calls for new economic pact

Healthcare workers tend to a patient on a stretcher at a hospital in Madrid, on March 30, 2020.
Healthcare workers tend to a patient on a stretcher at a hospital in Madrid, on March 30, 2020. © Juan Medina, REUTERS

Spain's coronavirus death toll slowed on Thursday as its leader said the worst should soon be over and exhorted all sides in the politically-fractured nation to join an economic revival pact as they did after dictator Francisco Franco's death in the 1970s.

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Speaking to a near-empty parliament as more than 300 lawmakers participated remotely, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said latest data showed Spain was close to the start of a decline in the epidemic that has ravaged the nation.

"This war against the virus will be a total victory ... the fire starts to come under control," he said.

Lawmakers were set to approve a two-week extension of a state of emergency, keeping most people at home until April 26.

After two days of increases, the daily death toll decreased on Thursday to 683 people in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 15,238 — second only to Italy, though the ballooning US toll was likely to overtake Spain.

Confirmed cases in Spain rose to 152,446 from 146,690.

The government's proposed new economic deal is inspired by the 1977 "Pacts of Moncloa" — named for the presidential palace in Madrid — to transform the state-run economy along market lines for the post-Franco democratic era.

It seeks to unite political parties, unions, companies and regions behind a common economic reconstruction policy and state welfare funding as Spain, like other western nations, piles billions of euros into aid and stimulus.

"I propose a great pact for the economic and social reconstruction of Spain, for all the political forces who want to lend their shoulder to take part," said Sanchez, a Socialist who leads a leftist coalition government after a series of inconclusive elections.

'Europe arrived late'

The leader of the main opposition People's Party, Pablo Casado, said Sanchez did not have sufficient moral authority. "The appeal for a pact doesn't seem sincere," he told parliament.

However, his party would support an extension of the state of emergency, Casado added.

The prime minister said measures to curb the COVID-19 disease — some of the toughest in Europe — have helped save many lives and slashed the proportional daily increase in new infections to 4% from 22%.

"All Europe arrived late but Spain acted earlier," he said, referring to the restrictions imposed in mid-March.

During the debate, deputy speaker Ana Pastor, recently discharged after being diagnosed with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, wore a mask when it was her turn to lead the session.

Despite the expected extension of the lockdown, the government plans to ease restrictions for companies after shutting down all non-essential businesses nearly two weeks ago. Lifting measures would be gradual and dependent on health data, Sanchez said.

"We are starting to see the end of this long road to the new normal," he said, while warning that normality could not be complete until a vaccine was found against the coronavirus.

Spain's government is irked by European Union (EU) foot-dragging over how to unite efforts for financial recovery, with more fiscally-frugal northern nations like German and the Netherlands reluctant to inflate debt too much.

"I say it without nuances, our union is in danger," Sanchez said, ahead of another meeting of EU finance ministers to debate the issue. 

(REUTERS)

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