MADRID (Reuters) – Two planes packed with protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as its confirmed coronavirus cases rose beyond 100,000 and it recorded its biggest one-day death toll from the outbreak.
Barring Italy, the virus has killed more people in Spain than anywhere else, triggering a lockdown that has brought economic activity to a virtual standstill. A survey showed Spain’s manufacturing sector is heading for a slump after shrinking in March at its steepest pace since 2013.
A record 864 fatalities overnight took the country’s overall toll to 9,053 while total infections rose to 102,136, health officials said, adding that the percentage increase in deaths was lower than in recent days.
“The central issue is no longer whether we’ve reached the peak or not, it seems like we are there,” health emergency chief Fernando Simon, who was himself diagnosed with the virus this week, told a briefing.
“The key issue is to make sure that the national health system is capable of guaranteeing adequate coverage of all our patients and treatment,” he said.
The streets of Madrid were virtually empty, with construction cranes standing idle and activity bubbling mainly around hospitals, where health workers were setting up tents to expand capacity, and disinfection crews spraying sanitizer.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said the growth rate of contagion was slowing down and, after the peak is over, “the second stage will be to reverse it and the third to eradicate the virus.”
Most of Spain has been under lockdown since March 14, with all but essential workers confined to their homes after the state of emergency was further tightened. But the virus has continued to spread, overburdening the health system and straining supplies of crucial medical equipment.
Two planes carrying supplies including masks, overalls and anti-bacterial fluids – one from China and one from Turkey – landed on Wednesday at a military airport near Madrid, the Defence Ministry said.
The government said it had sent 5 million pieces of protective equipment to health workers in the regions over the past 48 hours following these and other recent deliveries.
A cluster of infections has sprung up around Moncloa Palace, the seat of Spain’s government, with three ministers catching the virus as well as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife and father-in-law.
Three members of the five-strong coronavirus task force, which has been updating the nation on the epidemic via daily briefings televised from the palace, have also tested positive.
In the northeastern region of Catalonia, which has the highest number of coronavirus patients in intensive care, local media said the medical emergency service (SEM) had advised hospitals to consider forgoing intensive ventilator therapy for patients over 80 years old and use other treatment instead.
A SEM spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the contents of the document, but said all internal instructions had been backed by competent scientific and ethical bodies.
Spain’s emergency measures are impacting groups across society. In the first two weeks of the lockdown, calls to a government helpline for victims of gender violence shot up, the government said. [nL8N2BP2XS]