MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s pace of new coronavirus deaths slowed for the fourth day on Monday as the government contemplated a gradual easing of a lockdown in place since mid-March in the nation with the second highest death toll from the global pandemic.
FILE PHOTO: A man speaks on his phone as he walks past the Royal Palace during lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid, Spain April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina
As with worst-hit Italy, data in Spain is giving cause for hope the peak has passed. On Monday, it reported 637 fatalities in the previous 24 hours – a 5% increase in total and less than half the pace recorded a week earlier.
“The pandemic’s growth rate is slowing down in almost every region,” Maria Jose Sierra, deputy head of Spain’s health emergency committee, said at a virtual news conference.
Exhausted, but less overwhelmed than a few days ago, doctors echoed her relief: “We have noticed a decline in the number of people coming to the hospital emergency ward,” Christian Vigil, a doctor at Madrid’s October 12 Hospital, told Reuters.
Madrid Clinical Hospital’s head of emergencies, Juan Gonzalez, also spoke of a “drastic” drop in patients coming in.
Though Spaniards were daring to hope for an end to their torment, the overall body count was of course still rising – with Barcelona running out of cremation capacity – and many were becoming frustrated at the lengthy lockdown.
“My four-year-old daughter asks me why we can’t go out to watch the #Easter processions. That it’s not fair. That she wants to see them. And that she’s sick of the #coronavirus,” tweeted one mother, Sandra Eva.
Officials said for restrictions to be lifted, testing had to be widened beyond those suspected of having the COVID-19 disease and health workers, so as to find carriers who may have no symptoms or only very mild symptoms.
“We are in a new phase of the pandemic, where a reactivation of certain activities and sectors is possible but doesn’t imply we are relaxing our attitude … We are studying the terms of this transition,” said Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos.
Spain has been in lockdown since March 14, with streets and famous tourist sites eerily silent.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at the weekend that would remain in place until April 26, but he opened the door to easing some restrictions, such as keeping all non-essential workers at home, after Easter.
Monday’s data showed Spain’s total cases up to 135,032, the highest in Europe and second in the world after the United States.
Surrounded by piles of new coffins ready for shipment and her face covered with a mask, Maria Chao told Reuters her Ataudes Chao coffin-making firm in Madrid had increased supplies “dramatically”, by up to eight or 10 times during the crisis.
Yet, in a positive sign, checkpoints were lifted in Igualada and three other hard-hit towns in the northeastern Catalonia region, where there have been more than 100 deaths, the health ministry said.
Additional reporting by Inti Landauro, Joan Faus, Belen Carreno, Juan Medina, Raul Cadenas; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne