MADRID, May 23 (Xinhua) -- Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared on Saturday 10 days of national mourning for the victims of COVID-19.
The prime minister made the announcement in a televised TV broadcast the day after the Health Ministry gave the regions of Madrid, the Barcelona metropolitan area and the urban areas of Castilla-Leon permission to move to Phase 1 of Spain's four-stage plan to ease lockdown restrictions.
"From next Tuesday (May 26), when all of the country is in Phase 1, the government will declare 10 days official mourning - the longest in the history of our democracy," said Sanchez.
Over 28,600 people have lost their lives in Spain due to the novel coronavirus and the prime minister said that "flags will fly at half-mast on all public buildings and all naval vessels and when the scale-down is over, the Head of State will preside over a homage" to the victims.
Sanchez celebrated the easing of restrictions, saying that from Monday everyone "will be able to see our families and friends, who live in the same provinces... Shops will reopen and streets will recover their normality."
However, he insisted that the pandemic is not over. "We are a step away from victory, but the virus has not disappeared, we have to keep it at a distance... We are still in a health emergency and a spike in new cases is not impossible if we fail to maintain the right behavior in the coming months."
"We should not act with fear, but with prudence and responsibility," the prime minister noted.
Although he stressed the need to control movement throughout June, Sanchez said that from the start of July, Spain would "reopen for the arrival of foreign tourists in conditions that guarantee safety."
"People can plan their holidays. We will guarantee tourists will not be at risk and will not present a risk to us either - there is no payoff between health and business," he added.
"Bars and restaurants and tourism have a key role in our economy and the moment has arrived. I want to announce there will be a tourist season. I publically invite all of the establishments at the beach and in the interior to prepare to renew their activity in the coming days," said Sanchez, who added that professional football would also be allowed to restart on June 8.
Saturday also saw thousands of supporters of the right-wing Vox party take to their cars in Madrid and other major Spanish cities to protest against the government's management of the coronavirus pandemic. In Madrid, their cars blocked some streets in the city center, while photos showed demonstrators at times failing to observe social distancing recommendations.