Spain’s Death Toll Passes China’s While Stimulus Moves Pile Up

Rodrigo Orihuela, Naomi Kresge and Kitty Donaldson

(Bloomberg) --

Spain suffered its deadliest day since the outbreak of the coronavirus, with its fatalities surging past China’s even as tight containment efforts across Europe paralyzed all walks of life.

Britain’s Prince Charles became the latest high-profile infection of the pandemic, which has forced millions to be confined to their homes and is crippling the region’s economies, from Rome to London. There are precious few signs that governments have the highly-infectious disease under control, even with billions promised in rescue and aid.

Health authorities in Germany, the continent’s economic motor, warned somberly that this is just the beginning of the crisis as lawmakers in Berlin approved emergency spending to unlock a historic rescue package. Hospitals in Italy and Spain are overloaded and doctors are making painful decisions on which patients to prioritize.

The latest numbers from Spain made grim reading, and are likely to get worse. The total number of fatalities surged by 738 to 3,434. After registering its second-deadliest day on Tuesday, Italy saw a slight drop in the number of deaths over the past 24 hours.

“It is a very hard week, without a doubt,” Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said in a news conference on Wednesday, just hours before the government announced that first Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo became the third member of the cabinet to test positive.

To cushion the unprecedented economic shock from the viral outbreak, the European Central Bank is open to launching its ultimate weapon -- keeping borrowing costs low while the currency bloc’s member states go on a spending spree, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Stimulus Packages

Italy, which has had the most number of deaths from the pandemic, plans a new stimulus package worth at least as much as the 25 billion-euro ($27 billion), Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday.

In Germany, which tightened lockdown measures this week, parliament voted to allow additional borrowing of 156 billion euros, part of a 750 billion-euro package of legislation aimed at protecting jobs and businesses.

Germany is also considering a “timely, targeted and temporary” stimulus plan to revive economic growth once the epidemic subsides, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

The country that was a fiscal hawk has abandoned its iron-clad commitment to a balanced budget, faced with the prospect of a recession across the continent and the likely need to come to the rescue of Italy and other weaker economies.

At home, the mood is bleak. “I want to emphasize, as I have been doing for a long time, that we are at the beginning of the epidemic,” Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler said at a news conference. Almost 33,000 patients have been confirmed with the virus in Germany, according to data from regional health authorities compiled by Bloomberg. So far, 154 have died.

U.K Laggard

In the U.K., meanwhile, the situation has gone from bad to worse. News that the heir to the throne has the virus is a huge blow in a country where the monarchy occupies a special place and feeds into the impression that the situation is out of control. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership has drawn criticism for doing too little, too late as the number of cases rises at an alarming rate.

Some social media users questioned why Charles, who has mild symptoms, received a test when National Health Service doctors are not being systematically tested. Others expressed concerns about the health of Queen Elizabeth II, his mother and head of state. Charles, 71, is in the age bracket that is most vulnerable.

In the past week, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he has the virus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel self-isolated after coming into contact with a doctor who later tested positive. Calvo, the Spanish deputy Prime Minister, is in hospital, where she’s doing well. Leaders across the world are now talking to each other via video conference, with all summits being completely re-thought.

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