By Joan Faus
MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish government said on Saturday it would do whatever was needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic and warned that “the worst is yet to come” after the national toll surpassed 1,300 deaths and reached close to 25,000 cases.
The second-worst outbreak in Europe showed no sign of slowing as the death toll jumped by more than 300 from the previous day. Intensive care units are filling up in some hospitals.
“We have yet to receive the impact of the strongest, most damaging wave, which will test our material and moral capacities to the limit, as well as our spirit as a society,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a news briefing.
Sanchez said Spain had not lived through such a dramatic situation since its 1936-39 civil war, in which around half a million people died. Drawing parallels to a war economy, he said his government was working on plans to produce in Spain the equipment needed to battle coronavirus, such as masks.
His leftist government a week ago declared a 15-day state of emergency nationwide barring people from all but essential outings. Sanchez praised the “exemplary” response and said he had no plans to strengthen the restrictions, which he called the toughest in Europe.
The prime minister also made no mention of extending the state of emergency, though he warned of tough weeks ahead.
Spain’s death toll jumped to 1,326 from 1,002 the day before, according to Health Ministry data released on Saturday. The number of cases rose to 24,926 from 19,980.
The death rate from the current data is around 5%, Maria Jose Sierra, a top official at Spain’s health emergency committee, said at an earlier briefing. But she suggested the real rate is lower as testing has mostly been conducted on people in hospital, meaning there are likely far more cases.
Testing is set to increase – the government announced on Saturday it had acquired more than 640,000 testing devices and said that number could quickly reach a million. Six million more devices could also be on the way, Sanchez said.
Raquel Yotti, director of Carlos III Public Health Institute, earlier said the first devices were being distributed on Saturday and added the government was working on acquiring four robots that could bring the number of daily tests to 80,000. That would be up from 15,000-20,000 a day at the moment.
Robots are helpful as they can conduct automated testing, she said.
Authorities also said they were acquiring more medical equipment, including 700 ventilators. Around 1.3 million protective masks were distributed on Saturday across Spain for healthcare staff and patients.
There is growing concern about overcrowding at hospitals and complaints that facilities could be running short of equipment, such as masks. Some 1,612 patients are currently in intensive care units.
Ricard Ferrer, chairman of Spain’s intensive medicine society, told public television channel TVE that he expected than in eight to 10 weeks around 10,000 patients would be in intensive care units.
Ferrer said Spain had the capacity to deal with that number, but added that he hoped that from Monday the confinement measures would start having an impact on the number of cases.
On Friday evening military personnel moved patients from hospitals in Madrid to others with more space.
The military is also building a giant makeshift hospital at a conference centre in the Spanish capital and will disinfect nursing homes in Madrid, which have seen large numbers of deaths, Prime Minister Sanchez said.
Of the 17 Spanish regions, Madrid has been the worst hit, with 60% of the country’s deaths.
(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Frances Kerry and Sonya Hepinstall)