Spain extends lockdown, in medical supplies ‘war’
March 27 2020 12:09 AM
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Members of the European Parliament attend a mini plenary session in Brussels yesterday. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the plenary session was reduced to one day and mainly operated as a video conference, allowing many members to take part remotely.

Reuters/Madrid/Rome

Spain extended its coronavirus lockdown yesterday to at least April 12 as Europe’s second-worst hit country fought “a real war” procuring medical supplies in an overheated Chinese market that officials said was rife with fraud and speculative deals.
The death toll rose by 655 overnight to 4,089.
That was down from 738 deaths the previous day when Spain overtook China by the total number of deaths since the outbreak began.
Health Minister Salvador Illa cautiously told parliament the data “make us think we are starting a stabilisation phase”.
The number of coronavirus cases rose by 18% to 56,188, a slower pace than in the past few days, but health emergency chief Fernando Simon said that the start of mass testing for the virus would certainly boost new notifications of infections.
“We are in a real war to get hold of ventilators, facemasks and quick test kits,” government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero told Telecinco television.
“All the countries are fighting to secure domestic production, fighting to get supplies from China,” she said, adding that suppliers were failing to deliver on time.
The government was also working to guarantee domestic production by converting some of the industry’s capacity.
Spain has ordered €432mn ($471.4mn) of masks, gloves and testing kits from China, and has turned to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) partners for protective gear and ventilators.
A diplomatic source told Reuters that prices had gone up ten-fold in some cases and Chinese firms were demanding payment upfront.
A health authority source said there were queues of aircraft in some Chinese airports just to buy such supplies and middle-men often defrauded buyers.
Spanish officials did not identify any of the unscrupulous sellers by name, but said that they were usually smaller, private firms, so Spain was seeking long-term deals with reputable companies.
Parliament voted in the early hours of yesterday to extend emergency measures – including the lockdown that has seen people confined to their homes except for essential trips for food, medicine and work.
“It is not easy to extend the state of emergency,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament. “I am convinced the only efficient option against the virus is social isolation.”
Although the largest opposition party, the conservative People’s Party, supported the measure, its leader Pablo Casado chastised Sanchez for what he described as a late and inadequate response, particularly the government’s failure to provide medical professionals with vital equipment.
While Spain’s death toll is still well below Italy’s 7,503, it has been rising at a faster pace lately, having soared 10-fold since Spain declared the state of emergency on March 14.
In Madrid, Spain’s worst affected region, hearses continued to arrive at the city’s ice rink, which was converted into a makeshift morgue after authorities said existing facilities lacked resources.
Nursing homes, whose residents are vulnerable, have been particularly hard hit.
An analysis by radio network Cadena Ser found at least 397 residents of such homes had died from the coronavirus, nearly 10% of the country’s latest death toll.
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the findings.
Carmen Flores, head of patient rights group Defensor del Paciente, said that the number “appears correct”, urging the health ministry to provide its own data.
“Old people have been abandoned in an astonishing way,” she said.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Italy has grown by 662 to 8,165, the Civil Protection Agency said.
However, there appeared to be an error in the agency’s data because it reported no deaths yesterday in the third-worst-affected region, Piedmont, which would be unprecedented in recent days.
Separately, Piedmont authorities said their death toll had risen by 50 in the last 24 hours.
On Wednesday 683 died.
That followed 743 deaths on Tuesday, 602 on Monday, 650 on Sunday and a record of 793 on Saturday – the highest daily figure since the contagion came to light on February 21.
The total number of confirmed cases in Italy rose to 80,539 from a previous 74,386, the Civil Protection Agency said – the highest number of new cases since March 21.
Of those originally infected nationwide, 10,361 had fully recovered yesterday, compared to 9,362 the day before.
There were 3,612 people in intensive care against a previous 3,489.
The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy reported a steep rise in fatalities compared with the day before, and remains in a critical situation, with a total of 4,861 deaths and 34,889 cases.
That compared with 4,474 deaths and 32,346 cases reported up to Wednesday.



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