The scale of Spain’s coronavirus outbreak caught up with Italy’s on Friday as the worst in Europe, while overwhelmed regions appealed to China for assistance in stemming the tide of infection.
The 117, 710 confirmed cases announced on Friday morning momentarily surpassed Italy’s total, before Rome released an updated tally of 119,827 infections in the evening.
Spanish officials said the slowdown in deaths over the past 24 hours, to 932, was however a cause for optimism, coming the day after health minister Salvador Illa said “we have reached the peak” of the outbreak.
Spain’s total death toll has now reached 10,935 since the crisis began, while Italy has reported 14,681.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez admitted the numbers are “hard to take” as he thanked his compatriots for their sacrifice during three weeks of lockdown that have seen almost a million jobs lost.
“My message is one of determination and strength because we are going to win this fight together,” Mr Sánchez said on a visit to a factory making ventilators near Madrid.
Regional leaders in Spain have furiously demanded faster action on vital medical equipment since Mr Sánchez’s government centralised the health service under emergency powers.
The government announced that it had distributed 18.5 million face masks to regional health authorities, but it was revealed on Friday that Catalonia’s authorities have asked for help from China to cope with the region’s Covid-19 crisis that has seen more than 23,000 infected and 2,335 dead.
A letter from the Catalan government to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, seen by the newspaper El País, said the “exponential growth of critical patients” meant the region needed an input of “experienced health professionals” who had worked in Wuhan, the Chinese province hardest hit by Covid-19.
The NGO Doctors Without Borders has started setting up several field hospitals around Spain as the country’s intensive care facilities are almost totally full.
Maria José Sierra from Spain’s health emergency centre admitted on Friday that some regions’ hospitals had reached their limits, but claimed that more than 2,000 intensive care places from the private sector could be commandeered.
The number of patients in intensive care reached 6,416 on Friday, but Ms Sierra emphasized the fact that the rise in patients requiring hospitalisation was 10 per cent, compared to typical daily increases of 30 per cent last week.
Doctors across the nation are being forced to make terrible choices as it emerged that Catalonia’s health authorities had sent instructions over which patients over the age of 80 were eligible to be placed on ventilators.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said that care is given “based on each patient’s case profile, not their age”.
Raquel Fernández, a nurse, said her grandmother and grandfather, both 86, had died within days of each other in a hospital in Torrejón, outside Madrid, without being put on a ventilator or receiving intensive care treatment.
“Due to a lack of resources in this country, they won’t put an 86-year-old on an assisted breathing machine. It’s simply that cruel,” Ms Fernández told AP.
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