Hospitals Swamped as Italy-Spain Virus Deaths Surpass 17,000

Charlie Devereux and Jerrold Colten

(Bloomberg) --

Coronavirus deaths in Italy and Spain rose above 17,000, keeping Europe focused on further restricting people’s movements and avoiding a health-care collapse.

Italy, the country with the most reported deaths, recorded 756 new fatalities on Sunday. Spain’s Health Ministry said 838 people died from the virus over the last 24 hours, its highest daily number yet. Both countries together have more than five times the deaths reported in China, where the outbreak began.

Spain’s patients in intensive care surpassed the national capacity of some 4,400 beds, forcing health-care workers to decide whom to treat first. While officials say the increases in deaths and infections are leveling off, that focuses attention on the suffering and risks in hospitals.

“It seems the evolution has stabilized and could even be starting to fall, but the fundamental problem now is to ensure that our ICUs aren’t saturated,” Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Simon said at a briefing in Madrid.

Italy’s death toll rose to 10,779, with the number of infections approaching 100,000. Spain has recorded 6,528 deaths linked to the virus.

In a small glimmer of hope, the pace of increases in deaths slowed for a fourth day in Spain, deaths in Italy fell for a second day and new infections are rising more slowly in both countries. Officials warned against complacency.

The human toll is a reason to “be even stricter,” Luca Richeldi, an Italian government medical adviser, told reporters. “We must be even more determined in complying with the measures.”

The economic costs of the crisis continue to mount. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday repeated his call for a European “Marshall Plan,” a reference to the U.S. aid program credited with pulling Western Europe out of its post-World War II devastation. European Union member states remain at odds over how best to buttress their economies as the costs of countering the pandemic and supporting workers and companies rise.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s calls for coordinated EU action, specifically for the issuance of joint debt, have been met with German and Dutch opposition and countries have adopted their own bailout plans.

Deputy Finance Minister Laura Castelli told La Stampa the Italian government’s aid package could increase to as much as 100 billion euros ($111 billion). That compares with 750 billion euros mobilized by Germany and 300 billion euros by France.

More than 200,000 French businesses have applied for assistance to keep 2.2 million workers on the payroll during the virus-induced lockdown, Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said.

France, where the Covid-19 virus has killed more than 2,600 people, is gauging the success of quarantine measures by the number of patients in intensive care.

“If there has been less contact between people thanks to the confinement,” Director-General of Health Jerome Salomon said Sunday, “we should start to see a reduction in the number of new cases requiring intensive care each day.”

Sunday Every Day

Sanchez on Saturday announced tighter restrictions on movement, ordering those who work in non-essential services to stay home during the Easter period. Companies must still pay employees in full and workers will have to make up the hours by the end of the year.

“The premise is that we all stay at home,” Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz said on Sunday. “We need to reduce mobility and convert all of the days of the week into Sundays.”

The government hasn’t published a list of non-essential sectors. Spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said people who must keep working were those in the health sector, public administration, armed forces, police and food supply.

Read more: The latest virus news

More than 17,300 coronavirus victims — more than half the world’s total — have been reported in Italy and Spain. European borders have been closed with many other countries adopting similar lockdowns.

The U.K.’s restrictions — for now a three-week lockdown with schools and many businesses closed — could last for a “significant” period, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove indicated on Sunday. Fatalities in the U.K. have increased to 1,228 with 19,522 confirmed cases.

Even as Europe grapples with the virus, the challenge is spreading elsewhere. U.S. deaths could reach 200,000, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

There are signs that new cases may be tapering in Italy, which reported a second straight daily decline in deaths on Sunday.

Still, the global outbreak may be just the first round of the pandemic, and even if it ends in the coming months new infections will likely follow, Novartis AG Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan told Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.

“A pandemic comes in waves,” Narasimhan said. “It’s therefore important to continue to test and collect data.”

(Updates with French comments on ICU patients in 12th paragraph.)

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