MADRID, Spain (ChurchMilitant.com) - The coalition leftist government of Spain has been caught flat-footed in its response to the coronavirus, raising the ire of domestic and foreign critics who say that Spain's socialist premier Pedro Sánchez responded too slowly, favoring some regions over others in distributing vital medical supplies.
On March 7, hundreds of thousands of socialists and feminists marched throughout Spain to mark International Women's Day when there were but 430 confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the Iberian country.
Less than three weeks later, that number has jumped to 47,610 cases and more than 4,000 deaths, which is more than the number of deaths recorded by China, the origin of the virus. On Wednesday, the national government announced that 783 people died of the virus in just one day.
Following the feminist rally, more than 12,000 residents of Madrid tested positive for coronavirus. Among them are Prime Minister Sanchez's wife, mother and two members of his cabinet, all of whom attended the rally. Madrid vice-mayor Begoña Villacris of the leftist Ciudadanos Party said on Thursday that she sincerely regrets having attended the pro-abortion march, which she recognizes was promoted and facilitated by the socialist government.
On Thursday, the government announced that the 59-year-old national prosecutor for narcotics cases died as a result of a coronavirus infection.
Dr. Walter Ricciardi of Rome's Sacro Cuore University, a top Italian health expert, told Madrid daily ABC that it was "madness" to allow the feminist rally to take place. He told the newspaper, "These big rallies do a favor to the virus, instead of obstructing it," and added, "We have been saying that Italy was only the first European country that was affected, but that this would then happen to the other countries as well."
Spain registered its first coronavirus case on Jan. 31, but Sánchez did not publicly address the issue until 38 days later. The New York Times reported that criticism is mounting over Sanchez's "blasé" and "faltering" response to the virus.
Pablo Casado, the leader of the centrist Popular Party, said on March 13 that Sanchez "should start leading," and added, "During the last weeks, the government has made serious mistakes." It's time, he said, to "show firmness and determination." One Spanish public health expert told the New York Times that political consideration took precedence over scientific and medical advice.
Madrid and environs now account for at least half of those infected. The leader of the regional government of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the centrist Popular Party, has been self-quarantined for a week. It was Díaz Ayuso who took measures before the central government went into action, closing childcare centers, schools, universities, museums and galleries on March 11.
Meanwhile, hospitals are scrambling to obtain masks and gloves, ventilators and beds. Spain's desperation was made patent by the plaintive plea of an elderly woman in Leganés, a Madrid suburb, who accused doctors of giving a ventilator to a younger man rather than her husband, who is hospitalized with the virus and is in need of one.
Díaz Ayuso has criticized Prime Minister Sánchez, not only for a tardy response, but also for possibly holding up deliveries of essential medical supplies, such as masks and gloves.
On March 22, Díaz Ayuso sent a letter to Sánchez asking him to release vital medical supplies. She reminded him that she had been preparing for several months before the outbreak. "This is why we know what to do, and have been doing it for several weeks," she wrote. She added, "I only ask that you reciprocate."
Díaz Ayuso called on Sánchez to release two plane-loads of medical supplies she had ordered from China. For more than a week, various regional governments and councils and vendors accused Spain's Health Ministry of creating chaos after police were ordered to seize medical supplies coming into the country.
As of Tuesday, Díaz Ayuso said that Madrid has received no medical supplies from the national government. The Financial Times reported that the coronavirus has claimed 1,500 lives in the Madrid region so far. Even so, Díaz Ayuso remains hopeful that with help from the national government, further infections can be avoided.
Ximo Puig, the leader of the regional government of Valencia, called on fellow socialist Sánchez to release more medical supplies. The regional government of Andalucia is demanding the release of 150,000 masks that had been seized by the national government. A document leaked from Spain's Interior Ministry this week showed that the government ordered police to keep secret any operations to seize medical supplies, such as masks, gloves and test kits.
In a YouTube interview with EldistritoTV, economist Roberto Centeno accused Prime Minister Sánchez of partisanship in the distribution of medical supplies, noting that Madrid's regional governments of Madrid and Andalucia are both led by the opposition Popular Party. "This will mean that the pandemic will cause 30 million sickened and 30,000 deaths," he warned, which would be a greater toll than what Spain suffered during the disastrous Civil War of the 1930s.
Centeno, a veteran political commentator, charged that Spanish producers of vital medical supplies have stopped production because they do not know if or when they will be paid by the national government. Rubberex, for example — a multinational medical glove manufacturer with a plant in Spain — notes on its website that its online sales are suspended at this time. A query sent by ChurchMilitant to Rubberex has gone unanswered.
On Thursday, after 11 hours of debate in Spain's Congress, members of the opposition voted in favor of a legislative package proposed by the socialist coalition. The bill extends the current state of emergency to April 11.
Sánchez dismissed criticisms offered by the opposition, telling them to be "humble." Santiago Abascal, who leads the populist Vox Party, called on Sánchez to jettison leftwing Pedro Iglesias of the Podemos Party, who serves as vice-prime minister. Iglesias' party has been on the forefront of proposing measures for the economy and coronavirus that Vox has labeled "communistic." Abascal joined Popular Party leader Pablo Casado in saying that Sanchez's response has been tardy and insufficient.