By Jake Threadgould
Madrid, Mar 23 (efe-epa).- Spain began distributing rapid testing kits on Monday in a bid to speed up diagnoses in the most exposed and vulnerable sectors of society amid rising cases of the coronavirus in the country.
The first of these kits will be used on health workers, who make up 11.8 percent of all Covid-19 cases in Spain, according to the health minister, Salvador Illa.
He told a press conference that a batch of 8,000 items – part of an order for 640,000 – had already been distributed in the Madrid region, the worst-hit area of Spain, and that another 50,000 that will be sent across the country were due to arrive on Tuesday.
The Spanish government has ordered an additional 1 million, which were due to arrive throughout the week, he added.
Illa said officials would also focus on older people’s care homes, which were an early hotspot for the virus in Spain and whose residents are particularly vulnerable to the disease it causes – almost 90 percent of deaths in Spain have been people over 70.
A Madrid care home contacted by Efe on Monday said it was yet to receive any of the rapid testing kits.
Spain has recorded a total of 33,089 cases as of Monday, of which 2,335 (6.6 percent) have died and 3,555 (10 percent) have recovered, meaning there are roughly 27,000 active cases, according to the health ministry.
Some 425 people died from the disease in the last 24 hours.
But the percentage of people in Intensive Care Units across the country dropped from 15 to 13 percent of the overall number of cases, which has provided cautious hope in Spain that the country was approaching the peak of the crisis.
Over the weekend, images of people being brought off ventilators or moved out of ICU units went viral on social media.
Illa said: “We are starting a difficult week in which we must be prepared for tough days. We will hit the highpoint of the pandemic with the hope that within a few days we can establish the situation and begin lowering numbers.”
He said Spain had adopted some of the strongest measures against the pandemic in the European Union and that the government was not tabling any further restrictions so long as the population continued to abide by the strict rules already in place.
Some regional leaders have petitioned the Spanish government to go further with its lockdown and ban all but essential services, in a similar vein to Italy.
But Nadia Calvino, the minister of economy, dismissed them, saying the textile industry and agriculture, among others, were necessary for the functioning of Spanish society and the economy.
“When they talk about a full lockdown, we need to put it into context. For a hospital to keep functioning, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry must obviously keep working. The transport industry must carry on so that hospital workers can go to work,” she said at the press conference.
The restrictions, which are due to last until at least 11 April in Spain, have reduced the number of intra and inter-city journeys as well as long-distance trips by between 85 and 90 percent over the weekend, according to the transport ministry.
Calvino said it was important to limit business closures and job losses during the lockdown period to give Spain’s economy the best chance at recovery once the health crisis subsides.
“There is total agreement between social sectors that the priority is to protect the health and security of workers, but also safeguard production and employment,” she said.
Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, was admitted to hospital on Monday with what has been described as a respiratory infection. The government has yet to confirm whether or not it relates to Covid-19.