Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa clarified on Sunday that seniors will also be allowed to go outside for walks starting on May 2 if coronavirus contagion figures continue to fall. The news comes after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday that the confinement measures will be relaxed next weekend to allow for family strolls and “individual physical exercise” if the evolution of the pandemic keeps moving in a positive manner.
Speaking at a government press conference on Sunday afternoon, Illa said: “If the trend continues, and we think it will, on May 2 we will have a new order to allow walks and outdoor activities. Seniors will doubtless be able to enjoy going for a walk.”
The number of daily coronavirus deaths registered in Spain was 288 on Sunday, according to the latest figures provided by the Health Ministry. This is a significant drop from Saturday, when the number of overnight fatalities was 378, and the lowest figure since March 18.
“Today we have recorded the lowest number of fatalities in a very long time,” Illa said.
However, the data should be viewed with some caution, given that there has been regular underreporting of coronavirus statistics from Spain’s 17 regions at weekends and on public holidays due to lower levels of personnel.
There were 1,729 new infections, although this figure only counts cases confirmed through PCR tests, which identify people with an active infection at the time of testing. The total number of infections confirmed via PCR tests is 207,634. The number is higher if cases identified through serological tests, which measure antibodies in the blood, are taken into account. Up until two weeks ago, new cases were only being measured with PCR tests.
The total death toll since the beginning of the pandemic is 23,190. Health authorities also reported that a total of 98,732 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital, a daily rise of 3,024. A total of 37,584 health workers have contracted the coronavirus since the beginning of the crisis.
After reaching a peak of 950 fatalities on April 2, the number of daily coronavirus-related deaths began a slow descent. The figures last week remained stable with 367 on Friday, 440 on Thursday, 435 on Wednesday and 430 on Tuesday.
Speaking at the government’s daily press conference on Sunday, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, said “the magnitude of today’s drop is important.”
Simón said that from tomorrow the goal will be to “think about how we are going to safely move to the phase of easing the confinement measures,” in reference to the shelter-in-place orders that have been in place since March 14, when a state of alarm was declared.
On the government’s proposal to allow Spaniards out for walks and for exercise, Simón said: “Once we see that the population is in an appropriate situation. There is low transmission and health services are not currently overwhelmed, activities that don’t suppose any risk can be carried out.” “The epidemiological situation is favorable,” he added.
But Simón warned on Sunday that the relaxation of confinement measures will need to be carried out with great care. “A step back would be very serious for the health system and the morale of the population,” he said.
Children allowed outside
Children in Spain under the age of 14 were allowed out on Sunday for the first time since March 14, when the government declared a state of alarm in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For the past six weeks, minors have been confined in their homes, unless a parent had no choice but to take them with them to buy essential items.
Under the government order, published on Saturday in the Official State Gazette (BOE), children under the age of 14 can go for a daily walk within a one-kilometer distance from their homes and in the company of an adult.
In the eastern region of Valencia, the city hall opened parks on Sunday to allow children to visit on their daily outing.
Recommendations for lockdown transition
On Sunday, Health Minister Salvador Illa and health official Fernando Simón handed Pedro Sánchez a list of recommendations on the process to ease the coronavirus lockdown. The document, titled Health Recommendations for the Transition Strategy from the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, outlines the conditions required for restrictions to be relaxed.
Simón explained on Sunday that one of the key conditions is "guaranteeing that the [healthcare] system is able to respond to a new outbreak.” To ensure this is possible, regions must be able to “immediately” double the number of intensive care beds in hospitals. The document recommends that hospitals and medical centers maintain two entrances – one for patients with coronavirus symptoms, and another for patients with other illnesses. It also suggests that everyone entering a hospital should be tested for Covid-19.
Other recommendations include ensuring health workers have enough supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), that there are mechanisms to monitor the outbreak, and that authorities have the capacity to diagnose suspected cases.
Questions over death toll
Between March 1 and April 10, Spain saw a rise in mortality of around 24,000 deaths. Of this figure, 15,800 are confirmed coronavirus cases, but that leaves 8,200 fatalities, according to the civil registry.
The Health Ministry has asked regional authorities to report confirmed Covid-19 deaths, which means that only people who were tested and whose tests came back positive for the disease are counted in the official figures. This leaves out people who died without being tested, and patients who died outside of the hospital.
In Madrid, for example, the death toll for the second half of March could exceed official records by 3,000.
English version by Melissa Kitson.