MADRID • Spain's coronavirus lockdown was extended yesterday to at least April 12, as Europe's second-worst hit country struggled to tackle a fast rise in the death toll.
Parliament voted to extend emergency measures - including the state of lockdown that has seen people confined to their homes except for essential trips for food, medicine and work.
Confirmed cases in Spain have jumped tenfold since the state of emergency was imposed on March 14, while its death toll of 3,434 on Wednesday exceeded China's, with 738 lives lost in a single day.
The death toll surged to 4,089 yesterday, after another 655 people died within 24 hours, the health ministry said. The number of confirmed cases rose to 56,188.
"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."
The largest opposition party, the People's Party, supported the measure. However, its leader Pablo Casado chastised Mr Sanchez for what he described as a late and inadequate response to the crisis.
Mr Casado also blasted the decision not to cancel the International Women's Day marches on March 8, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, and criticised the government's failure to provide medical professionals with vital equipment.
"Governments don't send their soldiers to the front without helmets, flak jackets and ammunition. But our health workers don't have any protection," Mr Casado said.
Yesterday in Madrid, Spain's worst affected region, hearses continued to arrive at the city's ice rink, which had been converted into a makeshift morgue.
Spain has ordered €432 million (S$681 million) worth of masks, gloves and testing kits from China, and has turned to its Nato partners for protective gear for medical workers and ventilators.
Meanwhile, Italy's coronavirus infection rate slowed for a fourth successive day on Wednesday as fresh evidence emerged that long and painful lockdowns against pandemics will work.
The latest data from the epicentre of the outbreak comes with more and more nations weighing whether to shutter their own stores and factories - and for how long.
Almost everything across the Mediterranean country has been closed for over two weeks and public gatherings have been banned.
Analysts think that Italy is sliding into its deepest recession in generations as a result.
But it is the price Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has decided to pay to slow the spread of a disease that has now killed 7,503 in Italy and infected almost 75,000.
"History will judge us," Mr Conte told Parliament on Wednesday.
"We must all contribute to the common good," he added.
Wednesday's figures showed the number of deaths staying within the high but relative narrow range they had reached at the end of last week. Health officials reported 683 new fatalities and 5,210 infections.
The overall rise in daily deaths among confirmed Covid-19 cases slowed to 10 per cent.
It had been as high as 57 per cent when the illness was still spreading exponentially on March 8.
The daily infection growth rate fell to a record low of 7.5 per cent.
"The slowdown in the (infection) growth rate is extremely positive," the World Health Organisation's deputy director Ranieri Guerra told Italy's Capitale radio.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE