MADRID • Spain reported a national daily record of 838 coronavirus deaths yesterday, as the European toll continued to spiral upwards to now account for over two-thirds of the more than 32,000 fatalities globally due to the virus.
Spain's death toll from Covid-19 has risen above 6,500, with the government seeking to further limit the movement of people as the nation's overloaded healthcare system grapples with cases outpacing intensive care beds available.
Another 6,549 new cases were confirmed in the country, with total infections now at 78,797, the most in Europe after Italy.
The number of people sent to intensive care has surpassed Spain's official capacity of 4,404 beds as healthcare workers struggle to decide who to treat first.
In a small glimmer of hope, the pace of increase in fatalities slowed for a fourth day, with new infections rising 9 per cent compared with 20 per cent four days ago.
In hard-hit Italy, police with batons and guns moved in to protect supermarkets on the island of Sicily after reports of looting by locals who could no longer afford food.
A lockdown designed to curb contagion has shut almost everything across the country since March 12, depriving millions of steady incomes.
Italy's government will "inevitably" extend beyond April 3 the containment measures it had approved to stem the coronavirus outbreak in the country, the regional affairs minister said yesterday.
The coronavirus has claimed more than 10,000 lives across the Mediterranean country, about a third of the world's total. The death toll in the northern region of Lombardy, the epicentre of Italy's contagion, rose by around 416 in a day to some 6,360, a source familiar with the data said yesterday.
Simultaneously, the crisis has eroded the economy, which was the third-largest in the European Union before the new illness reached Italian shores from China last month.
The building sense of desperation reportedly boiled over last Thursday in Sicily, long one of Italy's least-developed regions.
According to La Repubblica daily, a group of locals ran out of one of Palermo's supermarkets without paying. "We have no money to pay, we have to eat," someone reportedly shouted at the cashiers.
In other Sicilian towns, owners of small shops that are still allowed to stay open have been pressured by the locals to give them free food, Il Corriere della Sera said.
The paper wrote of a ticking "social time bomb" in the region, which is home to around five million people and which has officially recorded 57 deaths from Covid-19.
In a shock development, Mr Thomas Schaefer, the finance minister of Germany's Hesse state, committed suicide, apparently after becoming "deeply worried" over how to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus, state premier Volker Bouffier said yesterday. Mr Schaefer, 54, was found dead near a railway track on Saturday.
The Wiesbaden prosecution's office said they believe it was suicide. "Today we have to assume that he was deeply worried," said Mr Bouffier, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel. "It's precisely during this difficult time that we would have needed someone like him," he added.
The British government admitted yesterday that the coronavirus lockdown could last a "significant" time as a leading expert warned that it could be in place until June.
"I can't make an accurate prediction, but everyone, I think, does have to prepare for a significant period when these measures are still in place," Cabinet minister Michael Gove told the BBC.
In a leaflet that was being sent to more than 30 million British households, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that "things will get worse before they get better". "The more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal," Mr Johnson wrote.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands passed the 10,000 mark yesterday, with 771 people dead so far as the country focuses on building up herd immunity rather than confining the population of 17 million.
How the EU responds to the coronavirus outbreak will determine its future credibility, a French minister said yesterday, after the bloc failed to agree last week on measures to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic.
The EU is struggling to come up with a coordinated response to the spread of the coronavirus, the latest test of the bloc's solidarity after it was shaken by Brexit, the 2015-2016 migration crisis and the euro zone debt crisis.
"If Europe is just a single market when times are good, then it has no sense," French European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin told France Inter radio.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE