Spain prepared to enter its third week under near-total lockdown on Sunday, as the government approved a strengthening of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the death toll rose by 838 cases overnight to 6,528.
Second only to Italy in fatalities, Spain also saw infections rise to 78,797 from 72,248 the day before.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in a televised address to the nation on Saturday night, announced that all non-essential workers must stay at home for two weeks, the latest government measure in the fight against coronavirus.
He said workers would receive their usual salaries but would have to make up lost hours at a later date. The measure would last from March 30 to April 9.
On Sunday, Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz said the measure was “flexible” and workers would be paid but would be expected to make up their lost days before December 31.
“We need to reduce mobility to the level of Sundays,” she said, adding that taking into account the Easter holidays, measures would cover eight working days.
She added to Prime Minister Sanchez’s calls for the EU to react, saying “we need a Europe in which workers’ rights are reinforced”.
Unions welcomed the measures and business groups CEOE and CEPYME said that while they would comply with the new rule, “it will generate an unprecedented huge impact on the Spanish economy, especially in sectors such as industry”.
The slowdown “may lead to a deeper crisis in the economy that could become social”, they warned in a statement.
On Sunday, health emergency chief Fernando Simon repeated a warning that intensive care wards were becoming saturated, but said cases were stabilizing and “the rise in new cases has been falling for a few days”.
In Madrid, birdsong drowned out traffic on deserted streets on Sunday morning as police reinforced patrols, stopping buses and cars to check passengers had reason to be out of their homes.
The number of beds at a makeshift hospital to treat coronavirus patients in the IFEMA conference center will soon reach 1,400, Madrid’s regional government said.
It also announced an official period of mourning for those who have died. Flags will fly at half-mast and a daily minute’s silence will be held.
Schools, bars, restaurants and shops selling non-essential items have been shut since March 14 and most of the population is house-bound as Spain tries to curb the virus.
Lockdown extension looms down in Italy
The number of deaths from coronavirus in Italy fell for the second consecutive day on Sunday but the country still looked almost certain to see an extension of stringent containment measures.
The Civil Protection department said 756 people had died in the last day, bringing the total to 10,779 — more than a third of all deaths from the virus worldwide.
There were 133 fewer deaths than the 889 deaths reported on Saturday, when the numbers fell from a record high of 919 on Friday.
While the total number of confirmed cases rose to 97,689 on Sunday from a previous 92,472, it was the lowest daily rise in new cases since Wednesday.
But despite hopes by Italian officials that the downward trend would continue, it appeared increasingly likely that restrictions on all but essential activities that were due to expire on Friday would be soon officially extended.
“The measures that were due to expire on April 3 inevitably will be extended,” Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia told Sky TG24 television.
He said the timing would be decided by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the government based on data from the medical and scientific community.
“I think that it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to talk of re-opening (schools and production sites),” Boccia said.
Italian media have reported that the extension could last for a further two weeks until about April 18.
Italy’s sports minister said on Sunday he would propose banning all sports events, including soccer matches, for the whole of April.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza asked Italians not to let the guard down.
“We would erase all the efforts made so far to rein in contagion. The sacrifices of the last weeks are serious,” he told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
The daily deaths in the northern region of Lombardy, the area that has borne the brunt of the emergency, were down sharply from Saturday’s tally.
“There isn’t an exponential rise in the data anymore, showing that what has been done is giving results,” said Danilo Cereda, an official from the Lombardy regional government.
But Giulio Gallera, the top health official in the northern region of Lombardy, said Italians had to acknowledge that they would have to live “in a different way in the coming months”.
More than 662,700 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 30,751 have died, according to a Reuters tally.