MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced an easing of lockdown restrictions on Saturday, as children prepared to go outside for the first time in six weeks and figures confirmed a daily coronavirus death toll running well below the peak seen early this month.
In a televised address Sanchez said Spaniards will be allowed out to exercise alone from May 2 if the coronavirus toll continues to fall. People living together will be permitted to take short walks together.
He also laid out the government’s wider plan to loosen the lockdown at different speeds across different regions, depending on whether they meet with criteria established by the World Health Organization.
“We will not suddenly recover activity across all sectors,” he said. “The deescalation has to be gradual and asymmetric... We won’t all advance at the same pace but we will follow the same rules.”
Sanchez said the plan, which the government has been preparing with experts for three weeks, will be rolled out through May and “we will see what happens” in June. He said he will hold a virtual meeting with regional leaders on Sunday to discuss the plans, which the cabinet is set to approve on Tuesday.
His government’s handling of the crisis has met with fierce criticism and on Saturday residents across Madrid came to their balconies to bang pots and pans in protest.
Similar protests earlier in the week prompted the government to reverse an earlier decision and let under 14s leave their homes for the first time since the state of emergency was declared on March 14.
From Sunday they will be allowed one hour of supervised outdoor activity per day between 9am and 9pm, staying within one kilometre of their home.
Adults can accompany up to three children, who will not be allowed to use playparks and must adhere to social distancing guidelines, remaining at least two metres from other people.
Sanchez urged parents be responsible and follow the guidelines with the “maximum safety precautions”, while top police officials cautioned that children must stick to the rules.
Spain’s Health Ministry said 378 more people had died after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, up slightly on Friday’s 367, the lowest in the past month, but well down on the high of 950 seen on April 2.
Cumulative deaths rose to 22,902 while the overall number of cases rose to 223,759 from 219,764 the day before.
On April 13 sectors including construction and manufacturing were allowed to reopen, but with most people still confined to their homes except for essential reasons, shops, bars and public spaces remain closed.
Catalan Regional President Quim Torra announced the region’s own plan to ease lockdown measures, including stipulating specific hours when children of different ages could go outside.
Defending his measures, which ignore Health Ministry guidelines and highlight a rumbling discontent in some regions with the national response, Torra said: “We have the right to have our own deconfinement plan”.
In Pineda de Mar, northeast Spain, volunteer seamstresses were hard at work making face masks for children ahead of the deconfinement measure.
“More than 100 people are making protective equipment,” the town’s mayor Xavier Amor told Reuters. “We started with masks and then we followed the demand of hospitals, health centres, and nursing homes.”
As bars and restaurants eye a gradual reopening one company is devising safety measures to encourage wary clients to return.
Leganes-based LlenaTuBar, whose name translates as fill up your bar, is fitting dining tables with clear plastic screens to protect customers and installing thermal cameras to detect any patrons with a fever.
The Health Ministry on Friday changed the methodology for logging cases of the virus. It will no longer count antibody tests and will only include positive results from PCR tests.
Discounting antibody tests puts Saturday’s total number of cases at 205,905 and Friday’s at 202,990.
Reporting by Guillermo Martinez, May Ponzo, Jordi Rubio, Luis Felipe Castilleja, Jessica Jones and Nathan Allen; Editing by Louise Heavens, David Holmes and Chizu Nomiyama