efe-epaMadrid

Spain was braced for more stringent lockdown measures as authorities try to soften the blow of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s already overstretched intensive care units following a third consecutive daily death toll record Sunday.

Health authorities said 838 coronavirus patients had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall tally since the outbreak began to 6,528.

There were also 6,549 new transmissions recorded between Saturday and Sunday, a percentage that has been in decline throughout the week compared with the overall 78,797 that have been detected in the country so far, some 57,560 of which are active.

It suggests the country is flattening the curve of case numbers, but authorities have shifted their gaze toward the ICUs, which are expected to have a peak of admissions at the end of this week at the earliest.

The head of Spain’s public health emergency department, Fernando Simón, said that ICUs in six regions were already at a maximum capacity and that three other regions were rapidly approaching their limit.

He declined to name the regions in question, saying it was a matter for the local authorities.

Simón had earlier explained that the delay period between someone contracting Covid-19 and possibly requiring ICU care was between 7 to 10 days, which means that even if Spain contains the spread of the coronavirus, the heaviest blow on intensive care units will not arrive until later.

Another 332 people were admitted to ICU overnight, bringing the total number of patients in units across the country to almost 5,000.

In a bid to limit the impact of the outbreak on the country’s healthcare system, Spain’s government approved a strengthening of the nationwide lockdown in place until 11 April, ordering all non-essential workers to remain at home for two weeks, between 20 March and 9 April.

Government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero and employment minister Yolanda Díaz told a press conference after the extraordinary cabinet meeting Sunday that workers would still be paid and could make the days by the end of the year.

Díaz said: “We’re talking of a period of eight work days, nobody loses their rights, workers will have to comply with the hours stipulated in their contract.”

These rules would not apply to people already working remotely or those who have been placed on temporary leave.

The exact list of exemptions is expected later in the day.

The two week period overlaps with Spain’s Semana Santa Easter break.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, at the helm of the Socialist Party-led Spanish government, had informed the nation of the decision on Saturday evening.

Montero said that a delivery of medical gear, including gloves, masks and gowns, worth 628 million euros ($701m) would be arriving in Spain from China this weekend and throughout the week, as would 1,539 ventilators.

With 3,082 deaths, the region of the capital Madrid remains the worst-affected in the country.

Authorities there said 84 bodies were moved to the makeshift morgue at the city’s ice rink on Saturday.

The local health ministry also hoped to open 32 new ICU beds at the makeshift field hospital erected inside the Ifema convention center on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, boosting its capacity over all from 900 to 1,400 hospital beds.

On a positive note, 14,709 people have recovered from Covid-19 in Spain, meaning the recovery rate sits at around 18.7 percent. EFE-EPA

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