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Spain to let children out, aiming for lockdown ease

MADRID, SPAIN- The President, Pedro Sánchez, appears at the plenary session of the congress in Madrid, Spain on April 22, 2020. Sánchez asked on Wednesday (22) for an extension of the state of alarm until May 9 in the country , announcing that this includes the children's outing on the street and empowers the Ministry of Health with new powers.

By Nathan Allen and Emma Pinedo

Relieved Spanish parents welcomed on Wednesday a decision allowing children out on short walks for the first time in more than a month as the government contemplated a broader easing of one of the world's strictest coronavirus lockdowns next month.

With Europe's second highest death toll of 21,717 and the world's second most infections at 208,389, Spain's tough restrictions have included a controversial ban on children leaving their homes since mid-March.

However, on Tuesday night, the government bowed to public pressure - including pot-banging protests on balconies - and said those under 14 would be able to take short walks outside under supervision from the weekend.

Parents welcomed the concession, though it came late for some, after nearly six weeks cooped up at home.

"The escalation of anxiety, tantrums, irascible behaviour... have been in crescendo," said Dr Iban Onandia, 35, a neuropsychologist in the Basque province of Bizkaia.

Youngsters have paid an "indecent" price during the lockdown, added the father of two children, aged four and two.

Ramon Motta, a Madrid-based maitre d'hotel with two daughters Carla, 11 and Ariadna, 8, resorted to setting up a tent in their fifth-floor apartment to keep them entertained.

"We have Disney +, Netflix and videogames, but you don't want your kids spending five, six, seven hours in front of a screen, yet at the same time there's not much else to do," he said.

"After such a long time locked in, kids and parents start losing patience pretty quickly. A couple of times Carla went into a tantrum."

As his left-wing coalition marked 100 days in office, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought parliamentary approval to prolong a state of emergency until May 9 - the third such extension.

With the epidemic seemingly past its peak, the lockdown could start to be phased out towards the end of May, though measures will be eased gradually, he told lawmakers.

A slowdown in infections and deaths has Spaniards optimistic their nightmare may be easing. The official tally, however, fails to account for those who were more than likely killed by the virus but never tested.

The Madrid region on Wednesday released its own tally, showing 4,275 extra deaths, or 56% more than health ministry data. Nearly 4,000 of these were care home residents.

Nevertheless, officials were increasingly focused on restarting the flagging economy.

Madrid's local government said it was planning to ramp up public services and gradually reopen the capital's famous terrace bars while minimising infection risk, mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told the Antena 3 TV station.

"We have to confront the socioeconomic crisis and every second counts," he said.

The wider Madrid region announced the closure of an ice rink used as a makeshift morgue for more than 1,100 people.

In another sign of nascent recovery, carmaker Volkswagen's Spanish unit SEAT, which employs around 15,000 people, said it plans to resume production from April 27, though with 3,000 coronavirus tests a week on its workforce.

Nissan also said on Wednesday it would restart production in Barcelona from May 4.

Spain was set to receive the highest level of orders ever for a euro zone bond sale - 15 billion euros - as debt for stimulus programmes drew high demand.

But in a blow to the vital tourism industry, authorities in the Valencian town of Buñol postponed the 75th annual "Tomatina" festival, where thousands gather every August to pelt each other with fresh tomatoes.

It was the first cancellation since 1957.

On Tuesday, the San Fermin bull-running fiesta in Pamplona was also suspended, for the first time in four decades.

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