The Spanish government on Friday banned layoffs during the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, saying it had put enough measures in place for temporary leave to be granted to employees instead.
Employment minister Yolanda Díaz told a press conference that nobody was “allowed to use Covid-19 as an excuse to fire people.”
“It is not necessary to fire anyone in this country, this crisis is a parenthesis, we believe there are sufficient mechanisms in this country for people to use public resources responsibly,” she added.
She said the government had simplified the process of placing employees on temporary leave, which now required simply filling out a basic form.
The minister from the Socialist Party-led government said temporary contracts due to expire in the near future would be frozen and resumed after the crisis.
Díaz’s announcement came 10 days after Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, unveiled an unprecedented 200 billion euro aid package designed to help businesses weather the coronavirus storm by offering credit lines.
The government also said it would pay benefits to workers put on temporary leave, whether or not they would have qualified in regular circumstances.
María Jesús Montero, the government's spokeswoman, urged the European Union to offer a clear response to the Covid-19 health crisis after the bloc failed to land consensus on a financial package following six hours of debate on Thursday.
“The EU is synonymous with solidarity and welfare. It cannot turn its back on the population during a crisis like this. We would never forgive that.”
EU leaders said they would meet again to discuss its response within two weeks.
Spanish health authorities on Friday said 769 coronavirus patients had died in the last 24 hours, the highest daily toll in the country since the outbreak began.
The new peak brings the total number of deaths in Spain to 4,858, while the number of new infections rose 14 percent in a day, the lowest increase in the last 15 days.
Spain has recorded a total of 64,059 confirmed Covid-19 cases, almost 50,000 of which are still active.
Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s public health emergency department, said the new figures provided a “certain hope” that the country was experiencing a flattening of the curve in terms of new cases, adding that such analysis must be treated with caution at this time.
The number of deaths in one day jumped 18.8 percent compared to the 655 deaths recorded Thursday but Simón highlighted that the figure, as a percentage of total cases, appeared to have stabilized.
“We have more deaths today than yesterday but the increase in terms of percentage is the same as the last three days,” he said in his daily briefing.
“It seems there is a clear stabilization.”
On a positive note, the number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 stands at 9,357, with 2,342 people being discharged from hospital in the last 24 hours.
The number of people who have recovered from the virus is almost double the number of deaths.
Spain continues to see a high number of Covid-19 cases among health workers.
According to the latest data, at least 9,444 medical professionals have contracted the virus.
"It is a high figure compared with other countries,” Simón said.
“It’s one of our main concerns.”
Spanish medical unions have complained about a lack of personal protection equipment like masks, gowns and gloves.
A government order for over 650,000 Chinese-made rapid testing kits, which were first going to be used on medical professionals, will have to be replaced after a first batch of 9,000 proved inaccurate, the Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa, said Friday.
So far Spain has received 50,000 of the items from that order, which are not part of the 432-million euro ($466m) contract with China that the Spanish government announced Wednesday, which would include the delivery of 5.5 million testing kits.
Illa said the kits had been acquired from a Chinese supplier via a national provider and had come with CE approval, meaning they should have met EU standards.
He said the replacement tests would be made available as soon as they had been delivered and were tested for accuracy.
Montero said part of the issue in securing the tests was down to the “ferocity” of the market, adding that China only exported 10 percent of domestically-made products.
The region of Madrid continues to account for most coronavirus cases in Spain, with 19,240 reported overall and 2,412 deaths. Catalonia is the second-worst affected, with 12,940 overall cases and 880 deaths.
Health officials have repeatedly warned that Spain’s hospitals will see an upsurge in pressure to handle coronavirus cases even once the number of new infections starts to decline.
Some 4,165 coronavirus patients are in ICU care across the country. EFE