surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

First aid

On Tuesday, prime minister Pedro Sánchez announced that his government will provide an aid package of €200 billion to deal with the Covid-19 (C19) outbreak in Spain. The next day, during a subdued parliamentary session attended by just a few MPs, the Socialist leader called for an emergency budget to deal with the pandemic's economic consequences. Sánchez's rhetoric on both occasions verged on doom-mongering, especially on Wednesday, when he warned that the "worst is still to come" and that 2020 is likely to consist of only nine or ten months as far as the Spanish economy is concerned. Spain, he said, will need "reconstructing" after the curve has spiked.

Talk like this contrasts sharply with the government's insouciance at the beginning of the month, when it allowed huge marches to go ahead for International Women's Day on 8 March. Despite a rapid rise in cases nationwide, especially in Madrid, the Health Ministry said that public demonstrations attended by hundreds or thousands of people weren't risky enough to cancel. Now, after a week of quasi-dystopian weirdness, we can only dream of taking to the streets with such freedom.

On 9 March, Italy was locked down. Less than a week later, Sánchez followed suit, taking the tragic and unprecedented step of closing all of Spain's bars and restaurants (I would have appreciated the wines at my local a lot more last Saturday evening if I'd known what was coming).

Now, he's intent on showing how seriously he's taking the pandemic and how his administration proposes to deal with its effects on Spain's population, services and economy.

It's already clear that the groups targeted by Sánchez's aid package - small businesses, the unemployed, employees on temporary contracts and the elderly and unwell - will need help in getting through this crisis. The problem, however, is that it's still too early to know how much C19 will cost Spain and what the medium-to-long-term damage will be for a country that's barely recovered from the last crisis. In other words, it's questionable whether the emergency package will be enough, by itself, to cope with the fallout from a pandemic that has temporarily silenced Spanish villages, towns and cities.

Sánchez is doing what he can to deal with the potential effects of a virus that is still, in many ways, an unknown quantity. But to really make a difference, his emergency package needs to function as part of an ongoing, informed response that's supported by Spain's other main parties. When things have returned to some kind of normality, the Socialist leader's priority will be to pass a budget, which proved impossible during his first term because of opposition in congress. But that was last year, long before C19 came along and made cooperation at all levels a vital necessity.