As the coronavirus spreads across Spain and the number of deaths continues to increase dramatically every day, the country’s healthcare system is struggling to cope with the pressure. However, the government hopes that the most recent figures suggest that the tide could turn against the virus.
The health ministry said Thursday that 655 people have died from the virus in the past 24 hours. With a total number of victims of just over 4,000, Spain recorded the second highest number of deaths from coronavirus in the world, after Italy.
The number of people killed by the virus every day had increased significantly over the past week. But the most recent daily figure is considered potentially significant because it broke this trend and was slightly lower than the previous day.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said the latest figures “indicate a change in trend that makes us think that we are entering a stabilization phase”.
With almost 8,600 new infections confirmed in the past 24 hours, just over 56,000 people have tested positive in Spain. But the minister, speaking before a congressional committee, said the speed at which the infection is spreading is also showing signs of a spike.
“If this general trend is confirmed, it would suggest that the number of cases registered could reach its maximum,” he said. “This is what we colloquially call the top of the curve.”
However, Illa also acknowledged that pressure on the country’s already strained healthcare system should continue to increase, possibly reaching a peak in early April.
Hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients, especially in the regions of Spain hardest hit by the virus. The Madrid region was the epicenter of the epidemic and, until a few days ago, it recorded almost half of all cases and two thirds of all deaths.
One of the causes of the relatively high death rate in Spain has been the spread of the virus in retirement homes, where it has claimed the lives of many residents. Earlier this week, Defense Minister Margarita Robles said that members of the armed forces, who were assisting medical personnel, had discovered the bodies of elderly people in certain nursing homes, where they had apparently been abandoned. The public prosecutor announced the opening of an investigation.
With many patients having to wait in the corridors to find beds, hotels have been turned into makeshift hospitals in the capital, as has the IFEMA conference center, which has been equipped with 5,500 beds.
In recent days, the virus has been more strongly felt in other parts of the country, such as Catalonia, Andalusia and the Basque region. Catalonia now has more daily infections than Madrid. The Catalan capital, Barcelona, is converting four municipal buildings into hospitals as it prepares for increased demand for care.
Fourteen percent of people infected with the virus are medical professionals, which puts additional pressure on the system and the government has admitted that there is a shortage of medical equipment.
“All our administrations (regional and national) are working tirelessly to acquire medical equipment,” said María José Montero, spokesman for the central government. “We are waging a real war to obtain masks, rapid test kits, respirators.”
Meanwhile, the government has said it is returning 9,000 rapid tests it bought from a Chinese manufacturer, apparently via a Spanish company, because they were defective.
The leader of the Popular Opposition Party (PP), Pablo Casado, said that if it turned out that the company in question did not have a license, the government would have shown “absolute irresponsibility, which should have consequences “.
Sánchez is facing increasing criticism from other parties for his handling of the crisis. However, in the early hours of Thursday morning, it received overwhelming approval from Congress to extend the state of emergency that has been in place for almost two weeks, until April 11. He gave the government the power to institute a national lockdown, which prevents Spaniards from leaving their homes unless there is a specific reason.
This measure means that the streets of the country’s cities are practically deserted. However, police reported that they had fined around 100,000 people for violating the restrictions, while about 1,000 others had been arrested.
Speaking on Thursday, the head of the armed forces, Miguel Ángel Villarroya, congratulated the Spaniards who respect the lock and who go out every evening to their balcony to applaud the country’s health workers.
“I want to pay tribute to the Spain of balconies, which is making a decisive contribution to eradicating the disease,” he said.
“We must not falter now, even if it appears that this flight is very turbulent. Beyond the storm is the airstrip where we can land. “