Spain unveils 'unprecedented' 200 billion euros coronavirus package

MADRID, March 18 ------ Spain announced a 200 billion euros ($220 billion) package on Tuesday to help companies and protect workers and other vulnerable groups affected by the spiraling coronavirus crisis. Police carried out checks at borders with France and Portugal, turning back foreigners attempting to enter Spain as part of strict measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Europe’s second-worst-hit country.

More than 20 inmates clambered onto the roof of a migrant detention center in Madrid in protest against the poor conditions inside, which they said were facilitating the spread of coronavirus. Some inmates had symptoms of the virus and isolation measures were insufficient, according to a letter shared on social media. Firefighters escorted the protesters back down without incident. Half of the economic assistance measures, which are worth 20% of Spain’s output, are state-backed credit guarantees for companies, and the rest include loans and aid for vulnerable people.

Some 117 billion euros of the total will be mobilized by the state, with the rest to come from private companies. The measures will be applied retroactively from March 14, when Spain declared a state of emergency, a government source said. Spanish stocks rose by more than 6% after the announcement.

“These are extraordinary measures, without precedent in our country’s democratic history,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a news conference attended remotely by journalists. Spain will pay benefits to workers temporarily laid off and suspend mortgage payments for those whose employment has been affected by the outbreak, among other measures.

“We want to protect employment and we want companies to know the government will help them,” Sanchez said. “Nobody will be left behind.” He said the health crisis had put the brakes on the economy, but would not say whether a contraction was on the cards as in countries like France. He said the government would need a new “reconstruction budget” to deal with the aftermath of the epidemic when it subsides. More than half of jobs in Spain are dependent on small or medium-sized companies in a country with one of the developed world’s highest unemployment rates.

“I have a little saved up, but I have absolutely zero income at the moment,” said Raquel Las Heras, who runs a booth selling lottery tickets in Albacete, in southeast Spain. “If I stay home like this, I reckon I can last about two months.” Spain’s 47 million people have been under partial lockdown since Saturday night, allowed to leave their homes only to go to work, buy food or visit a pharmacy or hospital, and hundreds of thousands have been sent home temporarily from companies such as Volkswagen and Burger King.