Spain’s Covid-19 cases surpassed Italy as Europe’s two main epicenters continue to struggle to curtail the virus, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announcing plans to extend the country’s lockdown until April 25.
Spain’s confirmed cases increased by 7,026 to 124,736 over the past 24 hours, while deaths rose by 809 to 11,744. Total cases are now higher than Italy’s 124,632, where the country reported the fewest number of new deaths since March 26. In France, the total number of fatalities rose to 7,560 and the U.K. reported its deadliest day yet with an increase of 708 deaths.
The virus has crippled Europe at different times with most countries now in some form of lockdown, even as nations like Sweden and the U.K. were more reluctant to take drastic measures earlier. Governments and policy-makers are scrambling to find ways to mitigate the damage with entire economies headed into deep recession and a common approach still elusive.
As attention shifts to Spain, Italy has signaled the situation, while still grave, is improving. Angelo Borrelli, the head of the country’s civil protection agency, said the number of patients in intensive care has dropped by 74, the first fall since the country went into a state of emergency.
In Spain, a slower pace of fatalities and new cases is also offering some hope that the outbreak may be moving toward a peak. Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Friday that the goal of slowing the epidemic was “within reach.”
The government in Madrid has imposed some of the most restrictive lockdown measures in Europe, shuttering most businesses and forcing people to stay in their homes except to buy groceries and seek healthcare.
Containment measures across the continent have cut off border crossings and limited air travel, while countries have announced trillions of euros in aid to support businesses and individuals.
Italy’s ruling parties and the Treasury reached an agreement to free up an additional 200 billion euros ($216 billion) of liquidity for firms, according to daily newspaper La Stampa. It said the moves, part of a new aid decree, will be approved by Monday and will let companies seek bank loans for as much as 25% of their revenue, most of which will be granted by the state.
In Germany the number of coronavirus deaths and confirmed cases climbed further, a day after Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler warned the country might require further intensive-care space. Germany has boosted capacity by more than 40% since the outbreak began.
The death rate in Europe’s largest economy has been well below the levels seen in Italy and Spain, but government officials and healthcare experts insist it’s too early to ease social distancing rules and transport restrictions.
There are signs in turn that the death rate in Sweden is growing faster than elsewhere in Scandinavia, raising pressure on the government to abandon its controversial hands-off approach -- schools, restaurants and cafes remain open -- in tackling Covid-19.
The number of Swedish deaths from the virus rose to 373 on Saturday, up 12% from Friday. That brings the rate per million in Scandinavia’s biggest economy to 36, compared with 29 in Denmark and 9 in Norway, where much tougher lockdowns are in place.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven warned that Sweden may now be facing “thousands” of deaths, and said the crisis is likely to drag on for months rather than weeks.
When, and How, Does the Coronavirus Pandemic End?: QuickTake
Apart from imposing lockdowns, several European leaders have moved to institute other controls which in some cases could also consolidate their own holds on power.
In Hungary, political parties will lose half of their state funding this year, Gergely Gulyas, the minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s office, said in a video briefing. The move comes after Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured the power to rule by decree this week, drawing criticism from European Union members that he staged a power grab under the cover of the Covid-19 crisis.
Meanwhile another dispute emerged over emergency medical equipment with Madrid accusing Ankara of retaining a shipment of respirators bought by two regional Spanish governments from a Turkish company.
Turkey cited the risk of a shortage at home in holding onto the ventilators, Spain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Spain would insist on reimbursement if the equipment was not released, it added. There was no immediate comment from the Turkish government.
It comes after local officials in France and Germany accused unnamed Americans of using unfair means to obtain protective masks. The U.S. embassy in Paris said any suggestion that the federal government was involved in such practices was “completely false.
(Updates with context and numbers throughout)
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