Spain tops 100,000 COVID-19 infections, with record death toll

A member of the Spanish Red Cross sets up beds in a temporary hospital at Les Comas in Igualada, Barcelona on 1 April 2020. [EPA-EFE/Susanna Saez]

Spain topped 100,000 coronavirus infections and registered its highest daily death toll on Wednesday (1 April) as health authorities raced to deploy hospital beds to deal with the pressure of the pandemic. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

The latest figures place Spain third in the grisly global rankings of coronavirus cases, behind Italy and the United States, and second in terms of fatalities, behind Italy.

“The total number of cases soared to 102,136, with an increase of 7,719 in the past 24 hours,” María José Sierra, spokesperson of the Coordination Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies, told a press conference.

Of those infections, 22,646 have recovered and 9,053 have died.

There are 5,872 people in intensive care, the expert added, and in the last 24 hours, there were 864 deaths in Spain, the highest death toll in the country to date.

Bad but “expected figures”

Sierra pointed out that the situation today is a reflection of what happened two to three weeks ago, as there is a delay period from the point of infection until symptoms show.

“These are the figures we expected,” Sierra said.

Minister of the Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska echoed Sierra’s views on Wednesday saying it was important to remember that “today’s fatalities were people who were infected before the confinement measures came into place.”

Health authorities said it was reassuring that 22% of reported infections had been discharged.

Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s centre for Health Emergencies, said: “the evolution of hospitalized cases and new ICU admissions is decreasing. It seems that we are already descending.

“Now the battle is to ensure our health system can offer treatment to everyone.”

The number of incoming patients needs to drop drastically, and the data seems to indicate things are moving in the right direction, although there will be no certainty until the end of next week, Simón added.

Spain now in a “stabilisation phase”

Health Minister Salvador Illa said in a press conference on Monday that Spain “has entered a stabilisation phase, and the objective this next week is to slow down.”

The minister added that the government had acquired several types of rapid testing kits which were being examined by experts.

Spain is now under pressure to increase its hospital bed capacity, particularly in ICUs, in order to face an expected surge in the number of patients requiring hospitalisation in the coming days.

In the capital region of Madrid, 10 new ICUs came into operation at the makeshift field hospital set up in the massive Ifema convention centre on the outskirts of the city, providing 5,500 beds, including 500 in ICU.

When fully operational, the makeshift emergency centre will become the largest hospital in Spain.

Shortage of ventilators and masks

There continues to be a great demand for material amid a shortage of respirators and personal protective equipment, such as suits and masks, according to reports from health officials.

In response to complaints about depleted resources, Illa insisted there was a regular supply of products. A shipment of seven million personal protective equipment suits and 1,900 ventilators are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, he said.

Miguel Ángel Villarroya, Chief of the Defence Staff, said the armed forces had received a Turkish armed forces plane in response to a request to NATO.

The army is also working to support a field hospital in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, which is facing a desperate situation in its hospitals and ICUs and is the second-worst hit region after Madrid.

Health officials are racing to deploy thousands of hospital beds to deal with the pandemic, as numerous field hospitals, sports venues, libraries, warehouses and navy vessels are being repurposed to deal with the growing number of sick persons.

Urgent measures to mitigate the economic slowdown

With almost 50,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, the objective is to increase the number of beds with around 23,000 new units.

But the pandemic has also slowed down productivity after stricter confinement measures came into force on Tuesday when the government suspended all non-essential activities until 9 April.

In an attempt to mitigate the effects of the temporary economic slowdown, a set of 50 measures approved by the cabinet came into force on Wednesday.

The aid package targets vulnerable groups who have been affected by temporary layoffs and small and medium-sized businesses that have taken a blow since the lockdown.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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