Spain divided: Why regional hatred of Madrid has fuelled coronavirus crisis

Madrid’s response has raised questions over how a country with a world-renowned health system can be completely overrun by the disease in just 19 days. Prime minister Pedro Sanchez was slow to respond over that period as COVID-19 claimed 4,098 lives and a total of 56,188 cases. But attempts by the left-wing leader to contain its spread have met opposition from regional leaders, some of whom see his state of emergency as a power grab.

Mr Sanchez has placed the country under lockdown until April 11, two additional weeks to the original containment measures which went into force on March 14.

Spanish citizens are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work, seek medical care, the supermarket or pharmacy, to help vulnerable people or to walk their dogs as part of the tough movement restrictions.

They risk being slapped with heavy fines or even prison sentences for ignoring the authorities advice.

However, as the shutdown fails to curb the spread of the virus it has provoked criticism from regional leaders.

Carlos Ruiz, a professional of constitutional law at the University of Santiago de Compostela, told Politico: “Spain’s devolved system has hindered having a common strategy to respond to the virus.

Isabel Diaz Ayuso, Madrid’s centre-right president, accused the central government of blocking her buying testing kits for her region.

With Spain’s capital seen as the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, Ms Diaz Ayuso slammed measures such as school closures, which she said had been unpopular with locals.

Foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez said there had been a “bit of a race” by regional leaders to announce their own measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Joaquin Torra, the Catalan regional president, slammed the shutdown of the economy as insufficient, insisting some regions want to do more to tackle the disease.

“There are autonomous communities such as Catalonia, Murcia and others that feel at risk and therefore we are calling for a total halt of the economy with the exception of essential services.

“We believe that the sooner we take these drastic measures, which must come together with an economic package, the better off we will be.

“There’s fear in Madrid to stop economic activity. But we can’t use sticking plaster. What I’m saying is let’s get ahead of that will inevitably come. I don’t care about flags or borders, and I’m not seeking political advantage.”

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Spain’s Basque Country decided to postpone its regional elections over the coronavirus emergency.

The April 5 ballot has been moved back after the main political parties agreed to schedule the poll until after the state of emergency has been lifted.

Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez said the central government has been forced to take the brunt of many unpopular decisions.

She said: “Of course, it’s been tough to postpone the regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia, and having to cancel the Fallas or the Mobile World Congress, but I think any responsible politician understands this is part of their responsibilities.

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“Those who see this as a way of doing party politics, or as a beauty contest, are not gauging the mood of the people. We are at a critical moment in our modern history and we need politicians up to the challenge.”

Mr Sanchez has also called for unity from the country’s regional politicians, pleading for them to support his central government.

He said: “We can understand that right now every measure seems insufficient, but just a week ago it could have seemed exaggerated.

“Limiting freedoms is something that a democratic government can only do when it is absolutely necessary.”

King Felipe VI, in an address to the nation, said: “We now need to leave our differences aside.

“We must come together around one single goal: overcome this serious situation. And we need to do it together.”

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