Spain Issues Back-To-Work Guidelines Amid Criticism
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Spain conducts a kind of experiment today - the government starts allowing some nonessential businesses to get back to work. Thousands of workers in sectors like construction and manufacturing are returning with some safety rules which do not reassure public health experts who think this is coming too soon. Joining us from Spain is Lucia Benavides. Good morning.
LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Why is the government moving now?
BENAVIDES: So the government is saying that the situation in Spain right now is contained enough to where more people heading to work won't result in a spike of infections. Here's Maria Jose Sierra, who's the spokesperson for the country's health emergency coordination center.
MARIA JOSE SIERRA: (Speaking Spanish).
BENAVIDES: She said she doesn't believe the spread of infections will increase as a result of these rollback measures. But in order to ensure some safety, police officers this morning began handing out 10 million face masks to people heading back to work onboard metro and buses, and that includes thousands of people.
The Spanish government had to approve this measure. They did so on Friday. But it was met with some opposition. There are some lawmakers that are criticizing the prime minister and his administration for putting economic interests above the health of its citizens.
INSKEEP: And what you just mentioned explains why this is so relevant here. We in the United States are facing the same question - how long to stay at home, when can we reopen the economy, is there some rollout or phased way to do it? But what are health experts saying about what Spain is trying?
BENAVIDES: Right. A lot of health experts are saying that this is happening too soon in Spain. The Spanish government has been seeking advice over coronavirus measures from a team of health experts, and one member told Spanish media that they were not consulted when the Spanish government made this decision. He expressed concern and said that the sensible thing would have actually been for the shutdown to be extended.
Critics in Spain are also pointing out that Spain is a week behind Italy in terms of infections and deaths, and Italy has not lifted its restrictions yet. In fact, they've extended the economic shutdown to - or the shutdown of nonessential businesses to May 3.
INSKEEP: When you say a week behind Italy - we know how bad Italy has been - that sounds pretty bad. What is the situation in Spain?
BENAVIDES: It's pretty bad in Spain as well. It actually - Spain has the second-highest number of cases after the U.S. So it has more cases than Italy at this point, and it has the third number of deaths after the U.S. and Italy. But the rate of new coronavirus infections in Spain is beginning to slow down. On Sunday, there were around 4,100 new cases, which was down 663 from Saturday. And the number of daily fatalities is also decreasing. Today, it was a little bit under 600 deaths in the last 24 hours. And intensive care units are also beginning to see a bit of a reprieve.
But, you know, health care workers are still getting sick, and they worry about getting their families sick as well because many of them live with parents who are high - at the high-risk population.
BENAVIDES: And so we're beginning to see a little bit of the emotional, psychological toll on health care workers, some of whom are showing symptoms of depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
INSKEEP: Yeah. And of course, that's a factor here - not just how many people get sick, but can the health care system handle them and continue to function. Lucia, thanks so much.
BENAVIDES: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Lucia Benavides is reporting from quarantine in the suburbs of Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.