People’s health comes before the economy in the Spanish government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to one of its deputy leaders, Teresa Ribera.

Spain has been one of Europe’s worst-hit nations in the pandemic, with over 27,880 deaths, and the draconian lockdown enforced by the Socialist Party-led government on 14 March to soften the blow on the overstretched health system all but halted an economy that was already being closely monitored by Brussels.

Much of the country is slowly starting to open up as the number of daily deaths and infection rates subside but uncertainty reins as the government turns its attention from the health system to a looming economic crisis.

“The faster and more efficiently we get the health situation under control, the easier the economic recovery will be,” Ribera, the fourth deputy leader in the coalition government, told Efe.

“There are a lot of people who haven’t been affected by health problems but are suffering because of the economic circumstances.”

At its peak in late March and early April, there were between 7,000 - 9,000 cases of Covid-19 being detected in Spain every day, a figure that has now come down to around 500 or below on average. The current infection rate stood at R0.8.

Ribera said the government, a partnership between the Socialist Party (PSOE), led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and left-wing junior partners Unidas Podemos, would keep its emergency financial aid packages in place while the health situation improved, adding that the government was currently footing the bill for 30 percent of Spanish incomes.

She warned, however, that those benefits would be temporary.

Ribera is also the minister for ecological transition, a post created by the Sánchez government, and is in charge of managing the extraordinary measures enacted because of the pandemic.

She said she hoped to see tourists returning to Spain in July, once the domestic restrictions on travel were lifted and health and safety protocol was in place.

The sector is a central pillar of the Spanish economy, accounting for 12.3 percent of its GDP before the pandemic and providing 2.45 million Spaniards with employment — some 12.7 percent of the nation’s jobs.

“Our idea is that we can begin to work with safe places of origin and destinations, with the month of July more likely than June.”

She warned however that the process of kickstarting the tourist sector again would have to be done with prudence so that neither visiting foreigners nor locals are exposed to the risk of infections.

Ribera pointed to countries like China, South Korea and Singapore, which all reported imported cases of Covid-19 when they relaxed entry permissions.

“We don’t want that for our people,” she said.

“It could be irresponsible to open up all at once,” she added.

Spain was the second-most visited country last year, welcoming 83.7 million tourists, who spent a grand total of 92.27 billion euros. EFE