Catalonia’s COVID outbreaks muddle nationalist agenda

Regional President Quim Torra wearing facemask in Catalonia's parliament on Wednesday. Photo: El Diario
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Nearly all of Catalonia 7.5 million residents will be required to wear facemasks both in enclosed public spaces and in most outdoor settings as of Thursday, after regional President Quim Torra announced the obligatory measure following a spike in the past week in the number of cases linked to multiple outbreaks of coronavirus in Lleida province.

The announcement of the mandatory mask measure comes as Torra and fugitive former regional President Carles Puigdemont announced the creation of a yet another secessionist political party, called Junts, per Catalunya, just in time for expected regional paraliamentary and presidential elections in October. A single comma is the only difference between the name of the new party and that of Junts per Catalunya (JxCAT), which has been registered and is controlled by Puigdemont’s former party, the centre-right nationalist PDeCAT (Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català).

Although Torra and Puigdemont have spent their entire political careers to the right of the political centre, they say the new party will be left-of-centre and “socially responsible” — which puts them in direct competition politically with their pro-independence rivals ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya).

The setback for Catalonia from the Lleida outbreaks threatens to delay Torra and Puigdemont’s push to win over ERC voters to their more confrontational brand of secessionist politics, which calls for an immediate move toward independence from Spain and creation of a Catalan Republic.

► News Sources: El Confidencial, El País and El Diario …

While it was Torra who announced the obligatory mask measure during a session of the Catalan regional parliament on Wednesday, in the eye of the storm over Catalonia’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic is ERC politician and regional Health Minister Alba Vergés, who so far has faced down calls for her resignation over the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Lleida.

The ERC received a boost last week to its chances in the upcoming elections, when Catalan penitentiary authorities announced they would push for relaxed prison conditions for ERC leader Oriol Junqueras and other ERC and PDeCAT politicians, who are currently serving time in Catalan jails after their conviction on charges of sedition and misuse of public funds related to Catalonia’s illegal 2017 independence referendum. Puigdemont fled Spain in November 2017 in order avoid trial on those charges and has resided ever since in Belgium.

If ratified by regional authorities and allowed by Spain’s Supreme Court, the relaxed conditions for those secessionist leaders serving jail time in Catalonia would allow Junqueras and others out of confinement on weekdays to campaign for candidates in the upcoming regional elections in October.

The coronavirus outbreaks of the past two weeks in Lleida have resulted in the confinement of some 210,000 people in the Segrià area of the province as Catalan health authorities struggle to contain the spread of the virus. Health Minister Vergés said during a press conference on Wednesday that the use of a mask will be obligatory for everyone aged 6 years and older and that not wearing a mask could lead to a fine of up to 100 euros.

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