Madrid – Spain struggled to cope on Wednesday with a mounting coronavirus crisis as its death toll exceeded China’s with another 738 lives lost in a single day, and a third senior government minister was diagnosed with the virus.
With 3,434 fatalities, Spain now has the second-highest number of deaths globally after Italy’s 6,820. Nursing homes across the country have been overwhelmed and a skating rink in Madrid has been turned into a makeshift morgue.
Police stood guard on Wednesday outside the rink, normally a popular venue for children’s birthday parties, as hearses arrived at the building.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo became the third cabinet member to test positive for the virus, but the government said she was doing well.
Parliament sat late into the night for a session aimed at approving extending to 30 days a 15-day state of emergency which has shuttered schools, restaurants and most shops. The extension was guaranteed after the opposition People’s Party pledged support.
People have been largely confined to their homes since the lockdown began on March 14.
“We have achieved a near total reduction in social contact,” health emergency chief Fernando Simon told a news conference, adding that Spain was nearing the peak of the epidemic.
Diagnoses increased by a fifth to 47,610 on Wednesday but the total could be higher: 137,000 workers are known to have taken sick leave associated with the virus, including to go into preventative isolation.
Medical staff, thousands of whom have become infected, have taken out lawsuits against the government, complaining of a lack of basic protective equipment like masks, scrubs and gloves.
The army has asked NATO for ventilators, protective gear and testing kits, Armed Forces Chief Miguel Villarroya said.
The government had ordered €432 million ($467 million) worth of masks, gloves, testing kits and ventilators to be delivered over the next eight weeks, with the first large batch expected this week, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
In an example of how companies are changing assembly lines to produce medical products, a shoe factory in northern Spain has switched to making simple protective masks – first for its own personnel and then for distribution.
“Now we are working hard to… make something a little more sophisticated for it to reach medical use,” Basilio Garcia, chief executive of the Callaghan shoe factory, told Reuters.
Lockdown has dealt a punishing blow to the Spanish economy, with tens of thousands of workers temporarily laid off as sectors like retail, tourism and manufacturing grind to a halt. One of Spain’s biggest employers, El Corte Ingles, said it would temporarily lay off 22,000 workers at its department stores.
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