Schools, protests, sales: will they be possible in the near future?

Government sets out proposal for regulations around demonstrations and does not rule out allowing children to return to classrooms before end of school year

An empty classroom at Marta Mata school in Girona, April 21, 2020 (by Marina López)
An empty classroom at Marta Mata school in Girona, April 21, 2020 (by Marina López) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 15, 2020 04:04 PM

With the number of Covid-19 new cases and deaths staying low compared to the peak of the crisis, the Catalan government is beginning to consider some activities that were seemingly unthinkable until now.

The return to schools was delayed until September when Spain's president, Pedro Sánchez, unveiled his four-phase de-escalation plan. Yet, the Catalan government sees a slim chance to bring it forward.

As for protests, it is not clear whether they are allowed under the state of alarm, and if so, under what conditions – Catalonia's home affairs ministry has put forward a proposal to regulate them.

Other everyday activities in normal circumstances, like in-shop sales, have been also banned by Spain, something also causing controversy in Catalonia.

Schools: following in the footsteps of France?

On Friday, the Catalan health minister, Alba Vergés, said on Rac 1 radio station that she is certain "ways can be found" to open schools for all ages before the school year officially ends, on June 19.

According to her, "zero risk does not exist now, nor in one month, nor in six months."

She added that it would be positive for children, as school has a "socializing" element.

Indeed, for her "it is not ridiculous" to follow in the footsteps of France, where classrooms are open from Monday – although it is not compulsory to attend and the health and safety measures are strict.

"We can put forward some way to open schools, because children need these spaces."

Yet, for her, safety measures would have to be enhanced and pupils arriving and leaving school should be staggered.

Smaller class sizes

The Catalan education department is proposing limiting class sizes next year to 13 pupils in primary school and 15 in high school, explained Josep González-Cambray, director of public schools, in an interview with TV3 on Sunday, adding that they aim for "all teaching to be face-to-face."

Smaller classes will mean more of them, so where there is not enough space to accommodate the increase, there will be a "hybrid" mode of teaching - a mixture of face-to-face and remote.

The increase in classes also implies an increase in teachers, so the department will "do its best" to put the required staff in place, said González-Cambray.

As for June, he reiterated that the aim is to start opening schools when areas reach Phase 2, but not for teaching. The education department will present a plan for reopening schools this week.

Rallies: two-meter distance between protesters

It is not entirely clear whether protests are allowed in Spain under the state of alarm – while some rallies for Labor Day were not allowed, the Spanish police is tolerating daily rallies in the Salamanca district of Madrid.

On Friday, the Catalan interior minister Miquel Buch announced that the government he is member of will share a proposal to guarantee the right to protest with Spain, which will have to decide on it.

"We are worried about health and safety, but also that this pretext could be used to suppress citizens' rights," said Buch.

His proposed regulations for protests would include a distance of two meters between protesters, no protests on streets under 20 m wide, obligatory use of face masks, no marching (so only static rallies), and only banners for individual use allowed.

Sales: no in-shop, yes online?

A few days ago, the Spanish government seemingly banned sales in shops, which are progressively allowed to open in the four-phase scheme.

"Establishments will not be able to announce or do commercial actions that can prompt crowds either inside or in the surroundings of a commercial establishment," reads the official gazette.

This caused some confusion among shop owners, and Spain's health minister Salvador Illa made it clear that that included sales: "Anything that can prompt crowds has no place now obviously." 

In Catalonia and across Spain it is customary that a summer sales campaign begins every July 1 and lasts untli the end of August.

Yet, the measure caused even more controversy as the official gazette stated that online sales are acceptable.

Catalonia's main business associations, Foment and Pimec, asked for clarification, while the Catalan business minister, Àngels Chacon, called the ban "ridiculous" and "a shame."

She added that shop owners already know "how to avoid crowding."

On Saturday, the Spanish government backed down, allowing sales from May 18, but emphasizing that "appropriate" measures must be in place to prevent crowding and maintain safety distances

Authorities have the power to stop "commercial or promotional actions if necessary."