Coronavirus, Italy, California: Your Friday Briefing

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the what he was seeing on the ground in the Spanish capital.

What’s the mood in Madrid right now?

In normal times, Madrid ranks as one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, with thousands of tapas bars and good weather that encourages people to socialize outdoors into the early hours of the morning. So it’s been very weird to see the city almost closed down and so silent.

The schools have already been shut for one week, so this crisis is starting to make people very anxious about how long the lockdown could last. Among the few people out on the street, many are walking their dog or pushing a shopping trolley — two of the activities that are exempt from the government order to stay indoors.

But there are gestures of solidarity, like the applause given daily by residents from their balconies to thank the doctors and nurses who are fighting the coronavirus.

You’ve written that Spain’s fractured politics have complicated the government’s response to the virus. Do you expect to see less arguing, and more unity, as the crisis escalates?

Last weekend, when Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a state of emergency, he got some scathing criticism from opposition parties for having responded too late. The crisis has also fueled territorial tensions, particularly since health care is one of the policy areas that is managed by regional administrations rather than the central government. Both Catalan and Basque politicians (who are from regions where there have been strong independence movements) have been warning Mr. Sánchez against reducing their powers.

But as the coronavirus numbers for Spain have kept climbing, politicians have mostly set aside their differences. Before the crisis, Mr. Sánchez was facing an uphill struggle to get approval for his next budget. Instead, he got broad support for a €200 billion relief package.

The question is whether this economic aid will be disbursed efficiently and fast enough. And if the lockdown doesn’t start slowing the coronavirus in Spain soon, it could put Mr. Sánchez under renewed political pressure.

That’s it for this briefing. Until Monday.

— Mike

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

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