Spanish Virus Deaths Climb Past 10,000 With 950 New Victims

Rodrigo Orihuela

(Bloomberg) --

Spain reported an increase in coronavirus deaths and new cases, suggesting severe containment measures have yet to bring the outbreak under control.

The Health Ministry recorded its deadliest day on Thursday, with 950 fatalities lifting the total to more than 10,000. The country is dealing with the second-most severe outbreak in Europe after Italy and the government has struggled to check the spread of the disease. A wave of infections has stretched the health service to breaking point and led to a shortage of beds in intensive-care units, while the army has been deployed to assist in its biggest domestic peacetime operation.

The number of confirmed cases increased by 8,102, a bigger gain than Wednesday’s 7,719, to 110,238. The daily death toll in Italy -- where more than 13,000 have died -- dropped to 727 on Wednesday, the lowest in six days, and the number of new cases is below highs in mid-March.

The newest Spanish figures contrast with optimism expressed by the government. Health Minister Salvador Illa told a parliamentary hearing on Thursday, after the data were released, that the “curve has stabilized and we are entering a process of slowing down.”

Illa, a philosopher by training, added that the percentage increase in deaths, hospitalizations and new cases reported Thursday was lower than a week ago.

Aside from over-stretched hospitals, the government is also struggling to deal with the impact in nursing homes in a nation with one of the world’s oldest populations. Many homes are understaffed and death tolls are rising rapidly as the virus is especially dangerous for the elderly.

Fernando Simon, a Health Ministry official, said Thursday it’s hard to find an explanation for Spain’s relatively high mortality rate. “In certain periods and regions, we have had nursing homes affected, with very fragile people,” he told reporters. “And there can also be a variability in how different countries report their numbers.”

The devastating impact on the Spanish economy is evident in recent data. The Labor Ministry on Thursday reported more than 300,000 new jobless claims for March, the highest monthly increase on record. The number doesn’t include hundreds of thousands of workers temporarily laid off after companies shut down following the declaration on March 14 of a state of emergency.

The tourism industry, a bellwether of the Spanish economy, has ground to a halt, in a blow to workers who rely on temporary hotel and restaurant jobs over the summer.

Airlines are meeting with the government to try to secure liquidity, the transport minister said Thursday. The country’s largest company by market value, retailer Inditex SA, has closed all its stores in Spain and is considering around 25,000 temporary redundancies if the state of emergency continues beyond April 11.

(Updates with Health Ministry official in seventh paragraph)

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