efe-epaBy Jake Threadgould Madrid

Spanish lawmakers on Thursday were set to approve the government’s proposal to extend the nation’s state of alarm until 26 April following a parliamentary debate scant in political unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure tabled by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is expected to get the backing of his Socialist Party (PSOE), its left-wing coalition partner Unidas Podemos and the main conservative opposition Popular Party, but Catalan separatist party ERC said they and the far-right Vox planned to vote against it.

Addressing the almost empty benches of Congress, the lower chamber, Sánchez criticised the political division that had arisen during a crisis that has seen Spain become one of the three deadliest coronavirus hotspots in the world.

He said that while the pandemic had triggered a global health, social and economic crisis, Spain had added a fourth element to the list: “a political crisis.”

The PSOE leader accused right-wing parliamentary groups, the PP and Vox, of launching accusations at the government that were based on falsities.

These, Sánchez said, included claims the government had failed to heed warnings from the World Health Organization or that it was covering up the true number of victims in the country.

He acknowledged that hindsight served to highlight areas where the government response could have been improved, but argued that the whole of Europe had reacted late to the crisis and that Spain had nonetheless been one of the first Western countries to impose such severe restrictions.

“If the virus affects us all equally, then what use is division?” he said.

He has called on all political parties to come together next week to design a “grand pact” for the regeneration of the country once the crisis has passed, something Spanish politicians have likened to the Moncloa Pact signed in the late 1970s after Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

“I am only asking you what I can offer in return, unity and loyalty,” he told MPs Thursday.

"Either we overcome this crisis with a deal or we become the sole country in the world whose opposition only offers controversies about not being on top of a health crisis.”

But the political scene that unfurled in the chamber as each party spokesperson took to the lectern, was far from united.

Although his party lent its support to the extension of the lockdown in Spain, PP leader Pablo Casado said the prime minister’s offer of a national pact served only to “cover up” the government’s failures in its management of the health crisis.

“Spaniards deserve a government that doesn’t lie,” the conservative leader said.

Vox’s firebrand frontman Santiago Abascal said Spain would emerge stronger from the crisis if Sánchez stood down and said the prime minister and Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, were “responsible for the highest fatality rate in the world.”

Members of the coalition government rounded on both the PP and Vox, accusing them of using the crisis to push their own political agenda with targeted campaigns against the government rather than showing unity with the country at a time of crisis.

Podemos’ Pablo Echenique said: “The epidemic, politically speaking, has gone over their heads. They are falsely accusing the government of not properly responding to it but they remain stuck in the world before the epidemic.”

He cited examples such as the United Kingdom and Portugal, where MPs had reached across parliamentary divides to tackle the pandemic jointly.

Echenique had also warned Sánchez against lifting the lockdown prematurely after the prime minister suggested some non-essential workers might be allowed return to work on Monday.

This was the third time Spain’s government had convened a parliamentary session to extend the lockdown, which since 14 March has kept 47 million people largely housebound, save for trips to the supermarket, doctor’s appointments and pharmacies.

The prime minister said he was sure that “within 15 days, I’ll have to come back and ask for another one.”

As the debate got underway, Spain’s health ministry said the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Spain jumped above 15,000, although the daily fatality rate dropped to 683 from 757 the previous day.

There were 5,756 new infections and 4,144 recoveries in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall figures since the outbreak began in late February to 15,238 deaths, 152,446 confirmed cases and 52,165 respectively. Around 85,000 cases are active.

For the second day in a row, the ministry did not provide details on the number of patients requiring ICU treatment, the reduction of which was the focal point of Sánchez’s decision to strengthen the national lockdown late last month by asking all non-essential workers to stay at home.

The fatality rate registered Thursday — 4.69 percent — is the lowest since the outbreak began.

The latest data keeps Spain in second place globally in terms of infection numbers overall, after the United States, which has leapfrogged Spain to become the second deadliest hotspot after Italy.

As well as addressing politicians in Spain, Sánchez used his appearance in Congress to level a warning at the European Union as Eurogroup minister prepared to resume discussions on an economic response on the crisis.

Spain has vocally called for swifter action from the bloc and backed the proposed issuance of so-called coronabond, mutualized debt packages that would allow the cash-strapped government handle the economic fallout of the Covid-19 crisis more cheaply.

“The EU is in danger if it does not show complete solidarity,” he said.

Northern European nations such as the Netherlands and Germany have opposed the coronabond proposals. EFE-EPA

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