Spain virus death toll tops 4,000

Mortuary employees wearing face masks wheel a coffin into the crematorium of La Almudena cemetery in Madrid, March 24, 2020 during the funeral of a COVID-19 coronavirus victim. — AFP pic
Mortuary employees wearing face masks wheel a coffin into the crematorium of La Almudena cemetery in Madrid, March 24, 2020 during the funeral of a COVID-19 coronavirus victim. — AFP pic

MADRID, March 26 —  Spain’s coronavirus death toll surged above 4,000 today but the increase in both fatalities and new infections slowed, leaving officials hopeful a nationwide lockdown is starting to curb the spread of the disease.

A total of 655 deaths were recorded in the country in the last 24 hours, bringing the toll to 4,089, the health ministry said.

That however was a 19 per cent increase compared with yesterday when deaths jumped 738 or 27 per cent.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose 18 per cent to 56,188, the health ministry said.

Yesterday, the increase in cases was about 20 per cent.

Spain currently has the world’s second highest death toll from the disease after Italy.

Change in direction?

Despite a national lockdown imposed on March 14, which parliament today agreed to extend until April 11, both deaths and infections have continued to mount, with officials warning this week would be particularly bad.

Against that backdrop the improvement was more than welcomed as suggesting the authorities might just finally be making some progress.

The recent figures “indicate a change in the trend... which make us think that we are starting to enter a phase of stabilisation,” Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

“If this general trend is confirmed... the number of cases may have neared its maximum, the peak ,” he added.

The Madrid region has borne the brunt of the epidemic with 17,166 infections — just under a third of the total — and 2,090 deaths, or 51 per cent of the national figure.

The pandemic has left many hospitals overflowing with patients and brought the medical system to the brink of collapse, with Spain struggling through a lack of medical supplies for testing, treatment and protection of frontline workers.

“Emergency services are overwhelmed at the moment,” Jorge Rivera, spokesman for the main hospital in Leganes on Madrid’s southern outskirts told AFP by telephone.

“Practically the entire hospital is dedicated to fighting the coronavirus, both the intensive care unit and the general wards,” he added.

The health minister told a parliamentary commission today that Spain had inked deals with Chinese firms worth €509 million to address shortages such as masks and gloves for healthcare workers.

“With the purchases we have completed in recent days, all healthcare professionals will have the means to protect themselves,” Illa said.

“The market is completely crazy,” the minister added. “Not enough masks, respirators and tests are being produced to supply the global market.”

The government wants to increase the number of coronavirus tests it carries out daily from 15,000-20,000 to 50,000, Illa said.

To achieve this Spain has ordered millions of tests from abroad and instructed local firms to start producing them.

But the government said today it had had to return a batch of tests it received from a Spanish supplier that imported them from China because they were defective.

Wearing protective gloves and a face mask, Spain’s King Felipe VI today visited a massive field hospital set up in Madrid’s vast IFEMA exhibition centre for coronavirus patients.

He told reporters the site “would go down in history” as a “true example of effort, sacrifice and resilience”. — AFP

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