The Spanish government has tightened up its national lockdown, ordering all non-essential workers to stay at home for the next two weeks in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus and relieve pressure on the country’s overstretched hospitals.
The measure, which comes two weeks after the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, declared a state of emergency, was announced hours after Spanish health authorities said the outbreak appeared to be peaking in parts of the country.
In a televised address on Saturday evening, Sánchez ordered all those in non-key jobs to stay at home from Monday, saying the “extraordinarily tough” measures were needed as the county intensified its efforts to contain the pandemic.
“This measure will reduce people’s movement even further [but] it will reduce the risk of contagion and allow us to unblock out intensive care units,” the prime minister said.
Sánchez also warned that the EU needed to react to the global health crisis in a united and decisive fashion to safeguard its own future.
“It’s Europe’s time to act. Europe is at risk,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, said that the situation in some regions appeared to be improving even as the country reported another record single-day death toll of 832.
The number of Covid-19 cases in the country rose from 64,059 on Friday to 72,248 on Saturday, and the number of dead now stands at 5,690.
Between Thursday and Friday, 769 people died from the disease.
“We’re getting there,” Simón told a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
“We don’t know exactly when we’ll get confirmation, but we’re getting close to the peak of the curve that we’re studying so anxiously. In some parts of the country, they probably may even have passed it – but we need to be cautious with preliminary information.”
He added: “The increase in cases is coming down in comparison with previous weeks, but it could be that there are cases that aren’t being detected in some regions.”
But Simón also warned that reaching a peak would not ease the pressure on Spain’s overstretched intensive care units (ICUs), adding that they were predicted to pass beyond full capacity in less than a week’s time.
“We still have a big problem when it comes to the overloading of our ICUs,” he said.
“Patients who pick up the disease today may need a bed in an ICU in seven to 10 days. That means that we’re still seeing a lag between the control of transmission and the saturation of ICUs. It also means they’re going to be overloaded by the end of next week or the beginning of the following week.”
Even if Spain were close to its peak, said Simón, extra efforts had to be made to try to reduce the pressure on ICUs.
Meanwhile, the director of Spain’s Carlos III Health Institute said researchers were studying how plasma from patients who have recovered from the virus could be used to treat those in hospital.
“We’ll keep financing projects over the coming weeks,” said Raquel Yotti. “At the same time, we’ll carrying on working to ensure that Spain has the best diagnostic tests.”
Earlier this week, the Spanish government announced it had withdrawn 58,000 Chinese-made coronavirus testing kits from use after it emerged that they had an accurate detection rate of just 30%.
Like other countries struggling to diagnose and treat the virus, Spain has looked to China for rapid testing kits equipment and much-needed supplies, and announced this week that it would spend €432m (£390m) on tests, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment.
However, a batch of Chinese-made kits bought by Spanish health authorities a few weeks ago has been pulled after they were discovered to be unreliable and the Chinese government said they had been made by a company that did not appear on its list of authorised manufacturers.