Spain to extend state of emergency as Covid-19 death toll passes 1,700

Coronavirus: Prime minister says military will take greater role with ‘worst yet to come’

The Spanish government sought on Sunday to extend until April 11th a state of emergency that it has imposed to try to control Europe’s second-worst outbreak of coronavirus.

The death toll jumped to more than 1,700, with more than 28,000 cases of infection.“We are at war,” prime minister Pedro Sánchez told a news briefing, a day after warning that “the worst is yet to come” in the coronavirus outbreak.

He said the military would have a larger role in the response to the pandemic and called for more economic help from the European Union.

Travel ban

Italy, which remains the European country most badly hit by the virus, also known as Covid-19, banned travel within the country on Sunday in yet another attempt to slow its spread. Data showed a further 651 people had died from the disease on Sunday, lifting the number of fatalities to 5,476.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Saturday he would freeze all non-essential business activity after previous measures failed to peg back the contagion, which emerged a month ago in the wealthy north before slowly advancing southwards.

Italy has registered more deaths than any other country in the world, while the number of confirmed cases is second only to China’s, with the tally rising by 5,560 to 59,138 on Sunday, the Italian civil protection agency said.

In Spain, the nationwide state of emergency, announced on March 14th and intended to last 15 days, bars people from all but essential outings.

An extension would need to be approved by parliament but that is guaranteed after the main opposition party, the conservative Popular Party, said it would support it, giving enough votes to Mr Sánchez's Socialist Party and its far-left government coalition partner Unidas Podemos.

Mr Sánchez said he hoped all parties would support the extension. It would be the first time in Spain’s four-decade democracy that a state of emergency would be prolonged.

Parliament has a scheduled plenary session on Wednesday.

Mr Sánchez praised Spaniards’ commitment to home confinement, and defended the need to extend the state of emergency, saying: “We hope that with this so drastic, dramatic and hard measure . . . we can bend the coronavirus’ curve.”

The death toll from coronavirus rose to 1,720 on Sunday from 1,326 the day before, while the number of registered cases rose to 28,572 from 24,926, according to health ministry’s data.

Officials cautiously highlighted that the number of new daily registered cases had dropped by 26 per cent from Saturday to Sunday.

"The general trend towards stabilisation can give some hope but we need to be very cautious," said Fernando Simon, head of Spain's health emergency committee, at an earlier briefing.

The death rate from the illness is around 6 per cent in Spain, said Mr Simon, but he suggested the rate is actually lower because the number of cases of infection is in fact likely higher than those recorded.

Authorities aim to have a more realistic picture in the coming days as they start distributing hundreds of thousands of fast-testing devices. Priority for those tests will be given to the regions most hit by the pandemic, hospitals and health personnel, Mr Simon added.

The Spanish armed forces will expand their role in dealing with the outbreak by moving patients to less overcrowded hospitals, transporting health equipment and helping Spaniards abroad return home, Mr Sánchez said.

The government also announced that starting at midnight it would restrict entry for most foreigners at air and sea ports for the next 30 days. European Union leaders agreed to close the bloc’s external borders for the same period.

Mr Sánchez said the European Union “can do and must do more” to help deal with coronavirus’s devastating economic impact. Spain has one of the developed world’s highest unemployment rates.

He called for a grand public investment programme and for the issuance of pan-European bonds to help member countries respond to the pandemic. – Reuters