Spain PM appeals for public unity, sacrifice in virus fight

People walk past a restaurant closed due to the sharp resurgence of coronavirus cases, in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Spain has reported 1 million confirmed infections — the highest number in Western Europe — and at least 34,000 deaths from COVID-19, although experts say the number is much higher since many cases were missed because of testing shortages and other problems. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

MADRID (AP) — Prime Minster Pedro Sánchez appealed Friday for Spaniards to pull together and defeat the new coronavirus, warning: “The situation is serious.”

Sánchez, in a televised address to the nation, acknowledged public fatigue with restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19.

But he added: “We have to step up the fight,” with more limits on people’s movement that will demand more sacrifices.

Spain this week became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially recorded COVID-19 cases. Sánchez admitted, though, that the true figure could be more than 3 million, due to gaps in testing and other reasons.

The current pressure on the health system, including hospitalizations, is not as acute as it was in the spring, he said. Even so, he asked for the public’s cooperation, discipline and unity during the winter months which, he said, “will be very hard.”

“We have a long road to travel,” he said, to get the pandemic under control.

Spain on Friday reported almost 20,000 new cases and 231 more deaths, taking the the country’s death toll in the pandemic to 34,752.

Political jockeying over pandemic measures, however, has muddled Spain’s strategy and made it at times difficult for the national government and the country’s 19 regional governments to coordinate measures.

The latest spat is over whether to introduce curfews, as other European countries have done.

The Spanish government is demanding cross-party agreement before possibly declaring a state of emergency amid the resurgence of the new coronavirus.

A state of emergency can be declared only by the national government and is a necessary first legal step for authorities to impose curfews on COVID-19 hot spots. But it is also a politically sensitive move which brought criticism of the government for being heavy-handed when it was previously used to help fight the pandemic.

Four Spanish regions formally asked the government Friday to declare a state of emergency.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said the government is still assessing the need for night-time curfews. Young people’s street parties after dark are blamed as a major source of new infections.

Illa said night-time curfews are a “very important,” step but the government wants “very clear” political support for the measure.

Regional governments, meanwhile, are imposing their own piecemeal restrictions.

The Madrid region on Friday banned social gatherings, except within a household, between midnight and 6 a.m.. Restaurants, cinemas, parks and student residences must also close at midnight.