Spain’s pace of virus deaths slows again

MADRID (Reuters): Spain’s pace of new coronavirus deaths slowed for the fourth day on Sunday as the government contemplated a gradual easing of a lockdown since mid-March in the country with the second highest death toll from the global pandemic. As with worst-hit Italy, data in Spain is giving cause for hope the peak may have passed. On Monday, it reported 637 fatalities in the previous 24 hours – a 5% increase in total and about half the pace of a week previously.

“We are observing that the pandemic’s growth rate is slowing down in almost every region,” Maria Jose Sierra, deputy head of Spain’s health emergency committee, told reporters at a virtual news conference. Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez said it was crucial going forward to widen testing to enable restrictions to be lifted. “We are preparing ourselves for de-escalation for which it is important to know who is contaminated to be able to gradually lift Spanish citizens’ lockdown,” she told TV station Antena 3.

While so far only those infected or suspected of having the COVID-19 disease have been tested, now checks will focus on the wider population to try and find carriers who may not be displaying symptoms, Gonzalez said. Spanish companies are manufacturing 240,000 test kits per week and are boosting capacity, the minister said, while equipment is also being bought from abroad. Spain has been in lockdown since March 14, with streets and famous tourist sites eerily silent, and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at the weekend that would remain in place until April 26.

However, Sanchez opened the door to easing some restrictions, such as keeping all non-essential workers at home, after Easter, even though shops and restaurants will stay shut. Monday’s data showed total cases in Spain up to 135,032, the highest in Europe and second in the world after the United States.

However, in another positive sign, checkpoints were lifted on Monday in Igualada and three other hard-hit towns in the northeastern Catalonia region, where there have been more than 100 deaths, the health ministry said.