Spain to phase out coronavirus lockdown, eyes normality by end-June
By Belén Carreño and Nathan Allen MADRID (Reuters) - Spain announced a four-phase plan on Tuesday to lift one of the toughest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe and return to normality by the end of June as the daily death toll fell to 301, less than a third of a record high of 950 in early April. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the lifting of the measures that have halted public life since March 14 and nearly paralysed the economy, will begin on May 4 and vary from province to province
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By Belén Carreño and Nathan Allen
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain announced a four-phase plan on Tuesday to lift one of the toughest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe and return to normality by the end of June as the daily death toll fell to 301, less than a third of a record high of 950 in early April.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the lifting of the measures that have halted public life since March 14 and nearly paralysed the economy, will begin on May 4 and vary from province to province. Each phase is designed to last two weeks.
The progression to higher phases with fewer restrictions will depend on factors such as how the rate of infection evolves, the number of intensive care beds available locally and how regions comply with distancing rules, he said, without providing concrete thresholds for such evaluation.
While restaurants can start opening terraces at no more than 30% of their capacity during the first phase, remote working will be recommended where possible until reaching the last phase of the plan at some point in June, when beaches would also be able to reopen with the support of local authorities.
"We are starting to glimpse an outcome that will be a reward for the huge collective effort made over the past weeks," Sanchez said, warning that the "virus is still lurking."
"It's up to the people now, we are embarking on a journey without a precise route map ... What we've accomplished is enormous but it could all be lost if we don't look after each other," he said.
Sanchez explained the government had chosen not to set precise deadlines for the easing of the lockdown, as had countries such as Italy, to avoid missing them in what is a fluid situation.
Total fatalities since the start of the outbreak rose to 23,822 on Tuesday, with the daily increase coming down from Monday's 331, the health ministry said. The number of diagnosed cases rose to 210,773 - the world's second-highest after the United States.
As data published on Tuesday brought further evidence of a worsening in unemployment, companies said they were looking to the government to allow a gradual restart of the economy.
"The important thing is to resume our activities in order to really avoid this drama that we are living," Antonio Garamendi, head of the CEOE business association, told RNE radio.
Sanchez also warned there would be a recession of "extraordinary scale" this year that will demand an extraordinary response from the European Union.
The first-quarter unemployment rate rose to 14.4% from 13.8% in the preceding three months, the National Statistics Institute said. That data only partially reflected the impact of the lockdown that began two weeks before the end of the quarter.
According to forecasts by the Bank of Spain, the coronavirus crisis could push the unemployment rate up to 21.7% this year, with the economy contracting as much as 12.4%.
"The authorities will set the pace," Jose Antonio Alvarez, CEO of Santander, told a news conference after the euro zone's second largest bank by market value reported an 82% slide in profit on provisions booked for the pandemic.
"What we are looking at is how we can adapt our spaces and our ways of working to an orderly return. As far as the tests are concerned, the health authorities are the ones who have the last word on how to carry out this process," he said, adding that the banking group had a global framework for testing staff.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Belen Carreno, Inti Landauro, Jesus Aguado,; Writing by Andrei Khalip,; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Philippa Fletcher and Alexandra Hudson)
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