By Julia R. Arévalo
Madrid, Mar 21 (efe-epa).- Spain’s prime minister appealed to his compatriots Saturday to remain strong in the face of the coronavirus pandemic as health authorities said that the fatality rate among Spaniards infected with Covid-19 stood at 5 percent.
The coronavirus COVID-19 death toll topped 1,300 on Saturday, just a week after the government imposed a state of alarm that entailed the near total confinement of the Spanish population.
In a televised speech, Sanchez thanked Spain’s 47 million people for their “exemplary” compliance with the restrictions.
Fuel and energy consumption fell sharply nationwide and Internet traffic soared by 80 percent as people went online for teleworking and diversion, he said.
Spain has also seen a 50 percent drop in crime over the past week, the prime minister said.
“We have to prepare for very tough days that are coming. We have to reach the end of next week very strong,” he said.
“Regrettably, cases are going to increase in the coming days,” Sanchez said.
Spain, with 25,000 confirmed infections, has 13,000 coronavirus patients in its hospitals, more than half of them above the age of 70.
Twelve percent of those patients are in intensive care units and the ICUs in the coronavirus “hot spots” of Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country are operating under immense pressure.
The one encouraging statistic revealed Saturday was the number of patients discharged, 2,640 according to Sanchez.
The prime minister said that the curbs on travel had prevented the high levels of infection in the worst-hit areas from spreading to “the entire national territory.”
“Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. Very hard days remain, we have yet to receive the impact of the strongest, most damaging wave,” Sanchez said.
He insisted that maintaining the stay-at-home rule was the only way to prevent Spain’s hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“We need to win time to prepare our health system,” the premier said.
Regarding testing, he said that the country’s capacity – now in the range of 15,000-20,000 tests a day – will expand significantly thanks to the purchase of 1 million rapid-detection test kits.
“We are also concluding an operation to import 6 million rapid tests,” Sanchez said.
Experts agree that the combination of social distancing with widespread, systematic testing was key to South Korea’s success in containing the virus.
While Asian societies had experience with pandemics, “Western society was not prepared,” Sanchez said.
Spain is currently the world’s third-largest COVID-19 hot spot, after Italy and China, which Saturday saw zero local infections for the third consecutive day.