efe-epaMadrid

The Spanish government on Thursday said the country’s labor market had suffered its worst month on record because of the coronavirus outbreak with the loss of over 800,000 jobs.

The job loss figures were published as Spain marked another grisly milestone in the human cost of the outbreak as it registered a record 950 deaths overnight, pushing the country above the 10,000 mark in terms of overall fatalities, although new infections were slowing.

Labor minister Yolanda Díaz said 834,000 jobs had been lost in March due to the national lockdown forcing all but essential workers to stay at home until at least 12 April.

“Spain has registered an increase in unemployment of 302,265 people. It is not a historical figure in the number of unemployed, but it is in terms of a monthly increase,” she told a press conference.

“We have 3.5 million people registered as unemployed."

The services sector has been the most affected with an increase of 206,016 unemployed people as bars and restaurants were ordered to temporarily close down.

The second most affected sector was construction with a 22.92 percent increase in unemployment, followed by agriculture with 6,520 unemployed people (4.26 percent).

“The virus does not have a gender-specific impact, but structurally the labor market has a very strong gender bias. There are two million unemployed women," Díaz said.

Spain has prohibited companies from firing employees during the health crisis and instead encouraged employers to offer temporary lay-offs called Erte.

Díaz said 620,000 of these applications had been processed so far, although some Spanish regions had yet to provide data.

The Erte are not counted among job losses, but rather new social security welfare claimants, as the government relaxed state benefit rules to widen the scope of those who could qualify for aid.

The minister of social security, José Luis Escrivá, said the monthly job loss figures were comparable to those observed in Spain in the first 100 days following the 2008 financial crisis. He said it was important to compare the data before Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez declared a national lockdown on 12 March and after, adding that in the first 11 days of the month — usually a good time of year for employment — some 64,843 jobs were added to the system.

Between 11-31 March however, the number of social security taxpayers “imploded” by 898.822. This tally comprised 855.081 employees and 40,877 self-employed.

A household survey published by the national statistics institute (INE) on Thursday said 4.79 million people in Spain were living alone during the coronavirus quarantine period.

Roughly 2 million of those identified were over 65.

Antonio García Alburquerque, 88, from Murcia, is one such person and he told Efe about how the coronavirus outbreak had got him worried not only about his own health but that of his sons, his grandchildren and his neighbors.

“My son brings me food so that I don’t have to go out,” said the man known universally in his building as El Abuelo (The Grandfather).

“I don’t move from my chair so we don’t get close. But that’s worse for me. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. Not even in the post-war period. This bug is a global problem, and it worries me a lot.”

García has vowed to get back to his daily games of dominoes with his friends once the crisis has passed.

“I’m old, on 5 September I’ll turn 89. But my grandchildren and my children are young. My neighbors, too, and them getting close to me is a worry. Not just for me, but most of all for them, because you want to avoid the hospital at all costs.”

Spain has registered 110,238 infections since the outbreak began, around 85,000 of which remain active cases.

Just over 6,000 people are receiving care in ICUs across the country, a figure that equals the official number of ICU beds in the country, although health authorities insist more beds are being made available.

Several field hospitals are being set up around the country. The Ifema fair trade center in Madrid has been repurposed to provide over 5,000 extra beds and a naval vessel off the coast of the Spanish enclave of Melilla will offer a further 650, including 8 ICU beds.

With the rate of new daily infections dropping, the government is now focusing on stemming the number of hospital admissions to alleviate the pressure on intensive care.

According to the head of Spain’s public health emergency department, Fernando Simón, ICU patients tend to spend longer in hospital, meaning numbers accumulate.

“The focus is no longer on the peak (of new cases), we’re already at the peak and some regions are descending. The focus is now on hospitalizations, we have to make sure this week that the ICUs don’t collapse,” he said.

At least 54,000 people have been hospitalized since the outbreak began and 26,700 have recovered from the virus.

Spain’s health ministry said a million rapid-testing kits had arrived in the country this week and that 90 ventilators were expected in the coming hours.

On top of that, 5,000 domestically-manufactured ventilators are expected in the coming weeks with car manufacturer SEAT teaming up with medical experts to produce 300 a day. EFE

jt/ch