March 25, 2020 / 1:14 PM / 6 days ago

Spain's coronavirus death toll surpasses that of China

MADRID, March 25 (Reuters) - Spain registered an overnight jump of 738 deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, pushing the death toll above that of China, where the disease originated, for the first time as the country struggles to cope with soaring numbers of infections.

With 3,434 fatalities, Spain now has the second-highest number of deaths globally after Italy’s 6,820, in an outbreak that has seen a Madrid skating rink turned into a makeshift morgue and dozens dead in overwhelmed nursing homes across the country.

Spanish medical staff, who themselves account for thousands of infected cases, have taken out lawsuits against the government complaining of the lack of basic protective equipment like masks, scrubs and gloves.

The Spanish army has asked NATO for ventilators, protective gear and testing kits, Armed Forces Chief Miguel Villarroya said on Wednesday.

Spain is on Day 11 of a 15-day nationwide lockdown which is likely to be extended to 30 days. Schools, bars, restaurants and most shops are shuttered. Social gatherings are banned. People are confined to their homes.

“We have achieved a near total reduction in social contact,” health emergency chief Fernando Simon told a news conference, adding that Spain was nearing the peak of the epidemic.

The number of coronavirus cases increased by a fifth to 47,610 on Wednesday.

In Madrid, authorities started to carry out mass testing for coronavirus in a requistioned fairground in a city park.

Aside from the devastating health impact, the lockdown has dealt a punishing blow to the Spanish economy, with tens of thousands of workers temporarily laid off as sectors like retail, tourism and manufacturing grind to a halt.

The Bank of Spain said on Wednesday that there had been severe disruption on the economy since early March and a sharp contraction in consumer spending.

Leaders of nine EU countries including Spain, France and Italy called on the bloc in a latter on Wednesday to agree on a “common debt instrument” to raise funds to support the health industry in combating the coronavirus, as well as the broader economies. (Reporting By Clara-Laeila Laudette, Inti Landauro, Jesus Aguado and Belen Carreno; Writing by Sonya Dowsett, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)

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