efe-epaOviedo, Spain

Spanish health care workers have Wednesday been bestowed the country’s prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Concord this year for their efforts tackling the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

One of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, Spain has registered a total of 239,932 coronavirus cases and 27,127 fatalities, although daily figures are now at minimal levels compared to the hundreds of deaths and thousands of infections recorded at the height of the outbreak between March and April.

In a statement, the Princess of Asturias Award jury said: “Spanish health care workers in direct contact with Covid-19 patients comprise the frontline in the fight against this disease in our country and have demonstrated, since the health emergency began, a commendable level of professionalism and commitment.”

Spain’s health care workers account for around 50,000 of all coronavirus cases, some 21 percent of the national total, according to the department of public health emergencies.

More than 60 health care workers have died from Covid-19 in Spain.

In recognition of their efforts, Spaniards have come to their balconies each night at 8 pm to offer a round of applause.

“Exposed to a high and aggressive viral load, their unconditional commitment, working long days without, on occasion, adequate access to protective equipment and medical resources, according to professional organizations and unions, represents an exercise in vocation of service and exemplary citizenship.”

In a bid to shield the country’s already overstretched health system from the impact of Covid-19, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez invoked a nationwide state of alarm on 14 March, a move that ushered in one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.

The prime minister, who leads the Socialist Party (PSOE), the senior partner in the coalition with left-wing Unidas Podemos, on Wednesday submitted a sixth and “final” request to extend the state of alarm by another 15-days, which would stretch the extraordinary measures to 21 June.

Lawmakers are to approve the measure, thanks to a government deal with regional Basque and Catalan parties and the center-right Ciudadanos.

“The worst is behind us,” he told lawmakers during a debate in Parliament, before urging caution as the country continued to proceed through a four-stage lifting of the lockdown.

The majority of the country is in phase two of that process, while hotspots like Madrid and Barcelona remain on phase one, with the ability to request phase two as of next week.

The national government decides whether or not a region progresses to the next stage following a review of hospital capacity and the infection rate, among other factors.

From phase three, the decision-making process of removing the lockdown will be placed in the hands of regional authorities, the prime minister said.

He added, however, that the government would draw up a decree allowing for “preventative” measures to be reapplied after the state of alarm expires in the case of secondary outbreaks.

The state of alarm grants the government extraordinary powers to restrict the movement of citizens across the nation and underpins the lockdown. EFE