Spain is to hold 10 days of official mourning for victims of the coronavirus epidemic that has so far claimed more than 27,000 lives, the government said yesterday.
The mourning period is to begin today when all flags on public buildings will be lowered to half-mast in a country that has suffered one of the most deadly outbreaks of the virus.
Writing on Twitter, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said it would be “10 days, the longest period of mourning in our democracy, in which we will all express our sorrow and pay homage to those who have died.”
The mourning period was approved at yesterday’s cabinet meeting, and government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said there would also be a ceremony to honour the victims presided over by King Felipe VI.
“Eight out of 10 victims were older than 70, they were those who helped build the country that we know today. We will honour their lives as is fitting with an official ceremony,” she said, without specifying a date.
Spain said yesterday the virus had so far claimed 27,117 lives in the country, out of more than 236,000 cases.
The health ministry had on Monday revised down the death toll by nearly 2,000 following a change in the system of gathering data.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Health Ministry yesterday defended changes to its methodology for recording coronavirus data that have led to wild fluctuations in daily statistics and provoked sharp criticism by opposition parties.
Health Emergency Co-ordinator Fernando Simon attributed the difference to old cases, which were included retrospectively as authorities adjust to a new tracking system and check back over historical data provided by regions.
“The process is going to continue for several days,” he said.
Government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said adjusting the methodology could distort statistical analyses, but that the new system was necessary to track the disease’s progress through the population.
“It is absolutely essential for us to know today how this disease is being transmitted,” she told a news conference.
Pablo Casado, leader of the main conservative opposition People’s Party, accused the government of hiding the true death toll and said the tweaking showed “an intolerable lack of respect.”
Earlier, the government denied that it had sacked a senior police official as punishment for criticising the government during an investigation into a decision to approve a rally in March that may have helped spread the coronavirus.
A court is looking into the decision to hold the March 8 Women’s Day rally in Madrid, which was allowed to go ahead just days before Spain went into lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.
Some epidemiologists say the rally played a major role in spreading the virus, although the government disputes this.
On Monday, the minority left-wing administration removed the head of the Guardia Civil police in Madrid, Col Diego Perez de los Cobos.
El Pais daily reported that the police force had sent a report to the court, blaming government health emergency coordinator Fernando Simon for the decision to allow the rally.
Opposition parties have accused the government of firing Perez de los Cobos in retaliation for that report.
At a news briefing, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska denied that the investigation played a role in the decision to replace Perez de los Cobos, which he described as a “a change of teams, a natural replacement process based on confidence.”
Guardia Civil second-in-command for all of Spain, Lt Gen Laurentino Cena, yesterday quit in protest over the sacking of Perez de los Cobos, saying the decision ignored the chain of command.
The opposition has called for the resignation of Grande-Marlaska for interfering in the investigation.
They accused him of trying to paper over the issue by announcing a pay rise for police at his news briefing. The pay rise had been approved by the previous centre-right government.
“It is an insult to the Guardia Civil and to the rule of law that (Prime Minister Pedro) Sanchez covers the sacking of the person responsible for the investigation of the alleged March 8 offences with that pay hike,” tweeted Pablo Casado, head of the conservative People’s Party. “We demand immediate responsibility,” he wrote.
Spain’s Labour Ministry yesterday said about 30,000 more pensioners dropped off the state system in the first four months of this year than in the previous year as the coronavirus hit the country.
A total of 205,638 pensioners left the state rolls from January through April in 2020, ministry data showed.
The ministry attributed the higher number of people in part to the coronavirus epidemic.
“We have to take into account how the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced the death rate of the overall population and, most of all, the elders,” the ministry said in a statement.
The total figure was 30,000 more than in the same period in 2019, and 25,000 more than the average between 2015 and 2019, according to the Labour Ministry’s data.
State pensioners statistics include retired people as well as widows and orphans. Generally about 90% of those who drop out of the system are retired or widowed people who do so as they die.
At the same time fewer pensioners enrolled in the system during the period, though the ministry attributed that mostly to the lockdown that led to the closure of all pension system offices in the country.
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