Spain’s coronavirus deaths rise as some businesses prepare to reopen

Spain’s coronavirus deaths rise as some businesses prepare to reopen
In this handout picture made available on April 9, 2020 by the Comunidad de Madrid (Madrid regional government) members of the Comunidad de Madrid's Biological Risk Medical Emergency Service dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, transfer a patient in Madrid. (AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2020

Spain’s coronavirus deaths rise as some businesses prepare to reopen

Spain’s coronavirus deaths rise as some businesses prepare to reopen
  • A total of 619 people died over the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed
  • Tough lockdown measures have helped bring down a spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April

MADRID: Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose for the first time in three days on Sunday, as some businesses prepared to reopen under an easing of the country’s strict lockdown regime.
A total of 619 people died over the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, bringing the cumulative toll to 16,972. Confirmed cases increased by around 2.6 percent to 166,019.
Tough lockdown measures have helped bring down a spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April, and the new deaths reported on Saturday were the lowest in 19 days while the increase of confirmed cases has roughly halved from a week ago.
All non-essential workers had been told to stay at home, but the government plans on Monday to revert back to less strict curbs that were in force up to March 27, allowing some businesses to resume activities.
That has triggered concerns of a resurgence in an epidemic that has caused more deaths in Spain than anywhere apart from the United States and Italy.
Catalonia’s regional leader Quim Torra said in a Twitter posting that the government was ignoring scientific advice to “maintain total confinement.”
Antoni Trilla, an epidemics expert and government adviser from the University of Barcelona, had said on Thursday that the stricter confinement measures should be extended.
However, Social Security Minister Jose Luis Escriva said a less strict lockdown was now sufficient to prevent the disease from spreading.
“What we have seen in the past days is the result of conditions that were in place between March 17 and 27, and which will still be in place from Monday,” he told the La Sexta TV channel on Saturday.
The coronavirus is weighing heavily on the Spanish economy, with some 900,000 jobs lost since mid-March.
European Central Bank Vice President Luis de Guindos said Spain’s reliance on tourism would likely leave it exposed to a worse recession than the rest of Europe.
“We’re talking about the worst economic situation since the (1936-39 Spanish) Civil War,” he said in an interview with the La Vanguardia newspaper.
Industry Minister Maria Reyes Maroto said the tourism sector would be slow to recover.
Restoring confidence in Spain as a safe destination for tourists would be key, and measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as hand-washing and social distancing, would have to continue, even on the beach.
“Those patterns will be in our day-to-day lives for a time, you cannot take a step back,” she was quoted as telling newspaper El Pais.

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Updated 03 December 2020

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed
  • New laws ‘could leave farmers landless, at mercy of corporate players’

NEW DELHI: Farmers’ protests across the Indian capital New Delhi have gained momentum as several new groups joined from various parts of the country on Wednesday.

Protesters repeated their demands for the government to scrap new agricultural laws which they say could destroy their livelihoods by opening up the sector to private players.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government argues that the laws passed in September would allow farmers to be self-sufficient by setting their prices and selling produce directly to private firms, such as supermarket chains.

Farmers are not buying that and say that the new laws would instead pave the way for the government to stop buying the crops at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the “mercy of private buyers” fixing prices.

Bhanu Pratar Singh, president of the Indian Farmers’ Association, said: “Our basic demand is that the government gives us in writing that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government gives to farm produce should be codified in law in the farm laws.”

Protests escalated last week when tens of thousands of farmers marched to New Delhi, with a majority saying that the new laws would also allow traders to stockpile grains, which they fear will lead to rising prices and more profit for traders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrations led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against protesters.

Farmers sell their products at wholesale markets owned by the government, which also sets the MSP for grains.

All of that could change with the entry of new market players in the agricultural sector, where individual market prices could supersede the MSP, Jagjit Singh Dalewal of the Indian Farmers’ Union, a joint forum for 30 farm unions, told Arab News.

“It will leave us at the mercy of the big business houses. We don’t want that uncertainty,” he said.

“The traditional market system and the MSP have sustained farmers in Punjab and Haryana for a long time. They assured us a guaranteed price which is higher than the market. The new farm laws deprive us of that,” Dalewal added.

On Tuesday, talks between officials and the farmers’ union failed after the latter rejected an offer to establish a committee on the issue.

A joint statement released by farmers’ groups said that they found the offer “an attempt to buy time without addressing the real issue.”

The next round of talks is expected to begin on Thursday.

“Most of the farmers in India have small landholding, and they cannot compete with the big corporate houses,” Sunil Pradhan, a farmer based in Greater Noida, a suburban city of Delhi, told Arab News.

“A farmer having less than two hectares of land cannot have bargaining power with the corporate groups. He will succumb to pressure and become a pawn in the hands of the big players. Such farmers need government protection,” he added.

The government says that the new laws are not “anti-farmer.”

“The new agricultural law implemented by the government is not anti-farmer at all,” Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankara Prasad said on Wednesday.

“Under this bill, the safety net of the MSP will remain and will also add new options that the farmers have. Farmers will be able to enter into direct agreements for sale of food grains with production companies,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

Economists have questioned the claims, drawing attention to the “genuine” concerns of farmers.

“Many small farmers are worried that the free market in the agriculture sector will dispossess many small farmers of their lands, which will become corporatized, and they will become landless,” New Delhi-based Prof. Arun Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News.

“The government is not doing enough to address the existential concerns of the farmers,” he added.

Kumar said that “86 percent of the farmers are small farmers and cultivate less than 2 hectares of land.”

He added: “They generate a small income, and fear that the new laws will not give them the right kind of prices and that they will become landless laborers.”

Most of the farmers have camped along the Delhi border for the past week and refuse to move to a designated protest site allocated by the government.

“We have been protesting since September in Punjab, but the government has been ignoring us. Now we are at the gate of Delhi and suddenly the government is desperate to engage us for talks,” Punjab-based farmer Sarwan Pandher told Arab News.

According to one estimate, more than 50,000 farmers are camping in different borders of Delhi, with medical professionals sounding the alarm over a possible spike in coronavirus cases due to the large gatherings.

“I blame the government for playing with the lives of the people. They should understand the gravity of the pandemic and address the farmer issue urgently,” Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum told Arab News.