Spain lawmakers extend state of emergency
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Spain's parliament on Wednesday voted to extend the country's state of emergency, allowing stringent coronavirus lockdown measures to remain in place for at least two more weeks.
The government imposed a nation-wide lockdown nearly eight weeks ago to curb the outbreak, which has killed more than 25,000 people and infected over 220,000 in the country -- one of the hardest hit in the world.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that abruptly ending the strict lockdown would be "unforgivable", ahead of a parliamentary vote Wednesday to further extend the state of emergency.
"Ignoring the risk posed by the epidemic and lifting the state of emergency very quickly would be absolutely wrong, a total, unforgivable error," he said.
Despite efforts by his right-wing opponents to block the move, parliament approved the extension by 178 votes in favour to 75 votes against, with 97 abstentions.
It was the fourth time the measure had been approved, meaning the restrictions will now remain in place until May 23 as Spain slowly moves through a staged rollback of the lockdown.
A state of emergency was first declared on March 14 in Spain, allowing the government to roll out confinement measures for its nearly 47 million citizens.
The country has only recently started ease some restrictions, allowing children outdoors and adults to leave the house to exercise.
Some small businesses have also been permitted to receive customers with a prior appointment.
"We have limited freedom of movement and the freedom to gather, that is certain. But we've done it to save lives," Sanchez said.
He insisted it was "the only way to guarantee a gradual and prudent transition" out of the lockdown.
The latest daily toll on Wednesday showed a slight increase in deaths, rising to 244 after three days when it stayed below 200 -- a far cry from the 950 deaths of April 2 when the epidemic peaked.
"We are progressing very well," said Fernando Simon, head of the health ministry's emergencies department.
"It would be very sad if through leaving the lockdown faster than recommended we lost everything we've worked for."
Earlier this week, Spain's main opposition Popular Party said it would not support any extension of the state of emergency.
But thanks to backing from the centre-right Ciudadanos and the Basque PNV, the government got enough support to push through the measure.
Last week, the government unveiled plans for a four-phase transition out of the lockdown that is to be completed by the end of June, with the country already engaged in the first preparatory stage.
© 2020 AFP