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Spain halts all ‘non-essential’ work for two weeks

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Via Financial Times

Spain is to ban all non-essential work for two weeks in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus, Pedro Sánchez, the country’s prime minister, announced on Saturday night.

Mr Sánchez has faced mounting pressure to step up Spain’s two-week old lockdown from political opponents and even within his own coalition as the death toll from the virus has mounted.

His announcement came after Spain registered its highest daily death toll to date — 832 people have died in the past 24 hours — but also as the accumulated number of cases rose by a relatively low 13 per cent.

Mr Sánchez said in a televised address that the existing measures had put the country “on the right path”. He added that the lockdown had clearly limited people’s movements at the weekends and that the country needed to take “an extra step” to reduce mobility — and hence the risk of infections — during the week.

He also issued an emotional call for the EU to show that “it is listening” by taking “economic and social action” to deal with the aftermath of the health crisis.

“This is the most difficult moment since its foundation and the EU has to measure up to the circumstances,” he said. 

At a teleconference of EU leaders last week Spain was among those calling for the EU to take actions such as issuing common debt and a commitment to bloc-wide spending plans.

Ahead of the prime minister’s address, the doctor helping lead Spain’s fight against coronavirus said the country was now arriving at the “peak” of the spread of the virus.

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“We don’t know exactly when we will have confirmation, but we are now arriving at the peak of this curve that worries us so much,” said Fernando Simón, adding that some, unspecified parts of the country may have already passed the peak.

But he warned of the danger that intensive care wards would be “saturated” and unable to cope, since someone infected today would only need urgent care in around seven days time or even later.

Already the strain is telling in Madrid, the worst affected area by the outbreak, where 1,404 patients have needed intensive care — close to the region’s capacity.

Meanwhile the number of dead in Italy from the virus rose above 10,000 after a further 889 people died over the previous 24 hours.

Official numbers released on Saturday showed that the country’s total diagnosed infections rose by a further 6.9 per cent to 92,472, the lowest daily growth rate in diagnosed cases since the outbreak began.

The total number of dead as of Saturday now stands at 10,023. On Friday, Italy suffered the deadliest single day for any country since the outbreak began when 919 were recorded as having died from the coronavirus. That day also saw Italy overtake China in terms of total diagnosed cases.

Italy has been under strict social distancing measures since March 9, with its government hoping that the lagged effects of its attempts to halt the spread of the coronavirus will start to show in its infection curve. 

While the pace of its total infections has been slowing there have also been a rising number of cases away from the northern regions that have been the hardest hit, including in the highly populated southern region of Campania.

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Spain and Italy — Europe’s worst hit countries — together account for around half the recorded deaths from the pandemic globally. 

A further 319 deaths were reported in French hospitals on Saturday, bringing the national total so far to 2,314. However, there have also been numerous deaths in old people’s homes that have not been included so far in the official figures.

Germany recorded 6,294 new cases of Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 48,582 since the start of the pandemic. The number of deaths rose by 72 to 325, according to official data released by the Robert Koch Institute on Saturday.

Germany has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, behind the US, China, Italy and Spain. However it has so far suffered notably fewer deaths relative to detected infections.

Additional reporting by Tobias Buck in Berlin and Victor Mallet in Paris

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