Spain, 3rd largest COVID-19 hotspot, unable to cope with the emergency

By Julia R. Arévalo

Madrid, Mar 20 (efe-epa).- Spain became the world’s third-largest COVID-19 hotspot on Friday as the country continued to struggle to summon the resources needed to treat infected people in a market that has failed to supply everyone affected by the ongoing pandemic.

Spain’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 1,000 on Friday and approached 20,000 confirmed infections, Fernando Simón, spokesperson for the epidemic control center, said at the daily midday press conference.

The number of deaths grew by more than 30 percent compared to Thursday’s tally.

Of those who have the respiratory disease, 52 percent are hospitalized and over 1,100 patients are in intensive care units, Simón added.

“We are trying to give the best guarantees of survival, but there are some that cannot be guaranteed.”

The Mediterranean country has been in a state of alarm since Saturday when the Government put the country into lockdown, ordered the population to self-isolate at home and to respect social distancing measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Only shops stocking essential items, pharmacies and grocery stores remain open. Transportation has been reduced to a minimum.

The government also decided late on Thursday to close hotels and other tourist attractions, setting a deadline of one week for foreign visitors to leave the country.

The hotels will be needed to house those who only have mild symptoms and people under quarantine. Several establishments in the capital city have already been earmarked for these purposes.

In the coming days, military units will set up some 5,500 hospital beds for seriously ill people at a large conference hall on the outskirts of Madrid, the army said.

Meanwhile, health authorities insist that the epidemic has not yet reached its peak in Spain.

“Right now the data is very likely to underestimate the total number of transmissions,” Simon said.

The emergency coordinator admitted that there were intensive care units “being stretched to the limit” and, due to the overload of patients, admission criteria would have to be more restrictive.

The health minister, Salvador Illa, reassured the country that “we are moving all of the available resources (…) to adequately attend to all Spanish citizens.”

But he pointed out that masks, respirators and detection tests are “products that are difficult to get hold of because understandably countries are all stocking up on them.”

Illa was speaking at the government’s daily press briefing alongside the minister for science, Pedro Duque, who provided an update on Spain’s research investigations to develop COVID-19 rapid detection test kits and a vaccine that can prevent the disease in future.

“The vaccine will arrive and will be available to every Spaniard,” he promised.

Six days into an almost total lockdown of the population, which has seen people forcibly confined to their homes, large companies such as Inditex and Iberia have also announced temporary massive dismissals.

The president of Spain’s association for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), Gerardo Cuerva, has warned that some 300,000 jobs will be lost only this year if the crisis continues for longer than a month.

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