Calls to Spain's gender violence helpline rise sharply during lockdown

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MADRID (Reuters) - Calls to Spain's governmental helpline for victims of gender violence shot up in the first two weeks of a state of emergency lockdown imposed to combat the spread of coronavirus, the government said on Wednesday.

Calls increased by 12.4% in the first two weeks of the lockdown compared to the same fortnight last year, while online consultations of the helpline's website grew by 270%, the Equality Ministry said.

Spain, like many other nations, has introduced stringent curbs on people's free movement outside the home to help halt the spread of coronavirus. Spain is among the countries worst affected by the pandemic, with 9,053 deaths as of Wednesday.

Worried about a rise in violence against women as people are stuck at home and can only go out to buy groceries, visit the pharmacy or, in some cases, to work, the government has started a new campaign encouraging women to call the helpline.

"We're here for you," said one poster with the helpline's number 016.

While most workers need to stay at home, the government said all services to help women victims of domestic violence would remain open.

It also said on Tuesday that victims of gender violence and their children would be housed in hotels if there is no room at the centers where they can normally stay in an emergency.

Spain's coronavirus lockdown started on March 14.

(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, Ingrid Melander and Belen Carreno; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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