Spain’s coronavirus patients surpass Italy’s, but new cases slow

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Spain’s COVID-19 cases have surpassed Italy as Europe’s two main epicenters continue to grapple with curtailing the virus. A slower pace of fatalities and new cases though is offering hope that Spain’s outbreak may be edging toward a peak.

Confirmed cases increased by 7,026 to 124,736 over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data, while deaths rose by 809 to 11,744. Total cases are now higher than Italy’s 119,827. Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa had said on Friday that the goal of slowing the spread of the epidemic was “within reach.”

Even so, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is likely to extend a national lockdown for another two weeks until April 26, according to reports in local media. The restrictions had already been extended until April 11.

Spain’s economy is already taking a hit from the virus: The purchasing managers index for Spanish services fell to a record low of 23 in March, while jobless claims in the month had their biggest ever increase.

The government in Madrid has imposed some of the most restrictive lockdown measures in Europe, shuttering most businesses and forcing people to stay in their homes except to buy groceries and seek health care. Containment measures across the continent have cut off border passages and limited air travel, while countries have announced trillions of euros in aid measures to support businesses and individuals.

Italy’s ruling parties and the Treasury have reached an agreement to free up an additional 200 billion euros ($216 billion) of liquidity for firms, according to daily newspaper La Stampa. It said the moves, part of a new aid decree, will be approved by Monday and will let companies seek bank loans for as much as 25% of their revenue, most of which will be granted by the state.

In Germany meanwhile the number of coronavirus deaths and confirmed cases climbed further, a day after Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler warned the country might require further intensive-care space. Germany has boosted capacity by more than 40% since the outbreak began.

Deaths rose by 168 to 1,275 on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Some 91,159 people are infected, the third highest in Europe, with new cases rising 6,365 from Friday. The death rate in Europe’s largest economy has been well below the levels seen in Italy and Spain, but government officials and health care experts insist it’s too early to ease social distancing rules and transport restrictions.

Apart from imposing lockdowns, several European leaders have moved to institute other controls which in some cases could also consolidate their own holds on power. In Hungary, political parties will lose half of their state funding this year, Gergely Gulyas, the minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s office, said in a video briefing Saturday. That, alongside measures to increase the burden on lenders and reintroduce a tax on larger retailers, will increase funds available to fight the coronavirus and rebuild the economy to 1.35 trillion forint ($3.96 billion), he said.

The measure comes after Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured the power to rule by decree this week, drawing criticism from European Union member states amid concerns he is staging a power grab under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis.


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