Spain's parliament approves new 2-week lockdown extension

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Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sits in the Spanish parliament wearing a protective face mask in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday May 20, 2020. Sanchez is appearing before the Parliament to ask for their endorsement to extend the nation's state of emergency that his government has used to rein in a coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 27,000 people in Spain. (Ballesteros, Pool photo via AP)

MADRID – Spain’s left-wing minority government succeeded Wednesday in maintaining the country’s lockdown in place despite criticism from opposition parties, as the national parliament endorsed a new — the fifth in a row — two-week extension of the state of emergency.

Spain’s lockdown which has succeed in reining in a COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed over 27,000 lives in the country will now last at least until June 7. The government says at least one more two-week extension will still be needed to complete what it considers a necessarily cautious return of centralized control over health policy to the governors of its 17 regions.

“The path we are on is the only one that can possibly beat the virus,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told a chamber with only a handful of members to limit contagion risks. “Thanks to all the parliament members who have supported the state of emergency because with their vote they have saved thousands of lives.”

Parliament approved the government's extension request by 177 votes to 161, with 11 abstentions.

Since the start of the national lockdown on March 14, more than 230,000 infections have been confirmed by laboratory tests in Spain but the number of new infections has been falling.

Sánchez argued that Spain still needs to keep a tight control over the health situation as it starts to loosen restrictions and restart economic activity. Small shops have reopened in most of the country, but not in hard-hit Madrid and Barcelona. Travel between provinces remains strictly limited.

Sánchez’s support had been waning with every vote to extend the state of emergency, which gives the government the power to restrict constitutional rights such as free movement and assembly — key to its sanitary lockdown. The main opposition conservative Popular Party and the far-right Vox party voted “No” on Wednesday.

Both right-wing parties accuse the government of being responsible for the impact of the pandemic that threatened to collapse the nation’s health system managed by Spain’s regions until the state of emergency centralized all efforts.