CORONAVIRUS

Daily coronavirus deaths in Spain fall to 605, the lowest figure since March 24

The Spanish government has changed its position on the use of masks, and is now recommending their use in some workplaces and on public transport from Monday, when many will return to work

Health staff at work in Madrid’s Puerta de Hierro hospital.
Health staff at work in Madrid’s Puerta de Hierro hospital.JUANJO MARTIN / EFE

Spain saw 605 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, according to official figures from the Health Ministry. The figure marks the lowest daily number of fatalities since March 24.

The total of coronavirus-related deaths came in at 683 on Thursday, 757 on Wednesday and 743 on Tuesday. April 2 saw the peak of fatalities in Spain, with 950 reported by the Spanish health authorities.

According to Friday’s figures, Spain has now registered a total of 15,843 Covid-19 deaths since the outbreak began in the country.

These latest figures should be taken with caution, given that data has been underreported at weekends and on public holidays

Total confirmed infections now stand at 157,022, with an extra 4,576 in the last 24 hours. This puts the growth rate in Spain compared to the total as 3% for the last day, which is the lowest rise since the official data started to be collected by the Health Ministry nearly a month ago.

The number of patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and have been discharged from hospital now stands at 55,668, which is 35% of total registered cases.

Speaking at the daily press briefing on the coronavirus crisis, Dr María José Sierra from the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts said that “the descending trend is continuing.”

However, these latest figures should be taken with caution, given that since the start of the crisis, data has been underreported on weekends and on public holidays. Today is a national holiday across Spain for Easter Friday, and Thursday was also a holiday in many parts of the country.

By region, Madrid remains the hardest hit by the crisis, wth a total of 5,972 victims

What’s more, the official figures from the Health Ministry are not supplying a complete picture of the reach of the epidemic, with 90% of total cases thought to be undetected given that testing is only carried out on the most serious patients. A large number of deaths are being left out of the official statistics too, such as those who have passed away in senior residences or their own homes and who were not tested for the Covid-19 disease.

By region, Madrid remains the hardest hit by the crisis, wth a total of 5,972 victims. Catalonia comes next, with 3,231 confirmed deaths, and then Castilla-La Mancha, with 1,431.

For three days now, the Health Ministry has not been offering the numbers of patients in intensive care units (ICUs), given that Spain’s regions have been using different methods to track these figures.

Madrid, however, has supplied these numbers, reporting on Friday that there were 1,399 patients currently in the region’s ICUs, 34 down on the previous day. There are also falls in the total number of coronavirus patients in Madrid hospitals, with 12,432 on Friday, 421 down on the day before.

Back to work

María José Sierra also referred on Friday to the return to work for many employees across Spain on Monday. On March 30, the government put the Spanish economy into “hibernation,” obliging all non-essential workers to stay at home on paid leave. These restrictions ended on Thursday, but the effect will not be noted in most parts given the Easter national holidays.

“We are returning to the situation of two weeks ago,” she said about the return to work on Monday. “The Health Ministry will be issuing recommendations. If someone has symptoms it is important that they stay at home and isolate, and that they get in touch with the health system. But more specific instructions are on their way. We are returning to a situation with a lot of social distancing, which we believe is going to reduce transmission. We do not think that infections are going to rise.”

María José Rallo del Olmo, the general secretary for transportation, also referred to returning workers. “We are asking companies to be flexible when it comes to start times,” she said. “Rush hours should be stretched out so that the number of workers on public transportation is reduced.”

Use of masks

Speaking at a second press conference on Friday, after a meeting of the Spanish Cabinet, Health Minister Salvador Illa explained that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control had recommended that a particular kind of reusable hygienic mask be used by the public. The Spanish government, he explained, is recommending the “complementary use” of such masks, above all on journeys via public transit to work. Illa explained that this product would be distributed in places where usage is recommendable, such as Metro stations, from Monday.

This marks a U-turn on the use of masks by the Spanish government, which up until now had not recommended their widespread use. They will not be obligatory, according to the government, but advisable both on public transportation and in workplaces where safe distances cannot be maintained.

The type of mask the government is talking about is not the surgical mask typically used by health staff, nor the filter mask, which is necessary for those who deal with the sick. Rather, it is a new kind of hygienic or barrier mask, classed by the Spanish Standardization Association with the code UNE 0064-1 for adults, and UNE 0064-2 for children. Illa said on Saturday that national production of these masks is underway in order to guarantee their supply.

The minister said that the government considered the measures that have been adopted to be sufficient so that those who are returning to work on Monday can do so safely, and guarantee that the curve of the epidemic continues to fall. “I would like to remind everyone that we are still in a phase of very tough measures,” the minister said. “What finished yesterday was an exceptional measure that was aimed at alleviating the pressure on ICUs.”

Illa added that between today and tomorrow, a million more rapid coronavirus tests will be distributed to Spain’s regions. “We are seeing the fruits of this impressive collective effort by Spanish society,” he stated. in reference to the effect of the ongoing lockdown.

Illa also referred to the fact that children have been confined to their homes for nearly four weeks now. “We are very aware of the efforts that are being required from children, but the government is acting with maximum caution,” he said about the lockdown measures. “There’s nothing we would like more than to introduce more permissive measures,” he added.

The health minister explained that the three “key” measures to prevent new infections were interpersonal distancing, handwashing, and hygiene in public and private spaces.

Political debate

The latest coronavirus figures come the day after Spain’s lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, voted to extend the state of alarm and current confinement measures for another two weeks, up to April 26. During the debate ahead of the vote on Thursday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) warned that a further extension, to May 10, is highly likely, although it is as yet unclear as to what the conditions would be. The Spanish government has been hinting at a gradual deescalation of confinement measures based on the data from the pandemic.

Humble” response from Podemos

The coalition government, led by the PSOE and backed by junior partner Unidas Podemos, came in for harsh criticism for its handling of the crisis from opposition parties at the debate ahead of the vote on Thursday.

Speaking this morning on state broadcaster TVE, Unidas Podemos leader and Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias responded to that criticism saying that “we have to be extremely humble and recognize that neither us nor other governments were ready for this pandemic. The first [thing that must be done] is to strengthen the public health system. A country must be autonomously producing personal protective equipment, and not have to resort to a speculative international market.”

Iglesias added that “unity is essential to face an emergency like this one.” Referring to the relationship between his party and the PSOE, he said that “of course we have debates, we speak about many things, but when we reach an agreement we are united. And we are offering our hand to other political forces, business leaders, unions, civil society… in defense of the general interest.”

Support for small businesses

The Spanish government is due on Friday to facilitate a second wave of public backing for loans, with another €20 billion to be made available. The objective is to guarantee liquidity for production, and will be reserved for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), and the self-employed. Half of the first wave of backing, which also amounted to €20 billion, was destined for SMEs and the self-employed.

According to data released on Thursday, in just four days there have been 33,000 requests for loan guarantees worth more than €2.8 billion, of which practically all is destined for SMEs and the self-employed.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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