Italy’s COVID-19 death toll on Saturday topped 10,000 and Spain posted record fatalities, signaling that lockdowns in Europe would not be lifted anytime soon while its leaders split along economic fault lines.
Deaths in Italy slowed to 889 from a record 969 on Friday and the 5,974 new infections were similar to the previous day’s level. Spain suffered another 832 deaths.
Almost 15,000 victims — more than half the world’s total — have died in the two countries, which are in almost total lockdown except for essential errands such as buying food and medicine.
The data suggest that while the pace of new infections might be leveling off, the human carnage and economic damage are not letting up for now.
“We’re getting to the peak,” Spanish Ministry of Health spokesman Fernando Simon told reporters. “In some parts of the country, we’re probably already over it. But we need to be cautious, since we’re talking about preliminary data.”
Italy, which has the pandemic’s highest death toll, is set to extend drastic containment measures until the middle of next month and would more than double the financial stimulus for its paralyzed economy.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron are advocating a joint EU response, exposing an EU rift dating back to the eurozone debt crisis.
“We won’t overcome this crisis without strong European solidarity, both on the health front and on the budget front,” Macron said in an interview with Italian newspapers.
“The amount is secondary. It’s the signal that matters, be it via joint debt or a common budget,” he said.
Such proposals are facing resistance from Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week said that she prefers to deploy the European Stability Mechanism, a rescue fund set up during the debt crisis.
“If Europe isn’t capable of rising to the challenge, the whole European project risks losing legitimacy in the eyes of our citizens,” Conte told Il Sole 24 Ore in a separate interview.
Signs of unrest and economic distress are on the rise. Police are patroling outside supermarkets in Palermo, Sicily, after one of them was raided by people who refused to pay for their shopping, according to media reports.
Conte is set to prolong Italy’s restrictions for two weeks beyond Friday, although minimal exceptions for companies are being discussed, Corriere della Sera reported.
Italy’s economic output is set to shrink by 6.5 percentage points this year, according to research group Prometeia.
The lockdown might be working, with the number of new cases stabilizing and many of the fatalities among people who contracted virus before or at the outset of the lockdown, said Lorenzo Pregliasco, cofounder of pollster YouTrend.
“Italy’s virus trend shows the curve is now fully in its linear phase and no longer exponential, with a daily increase in total cases of around 7 percent,” he said in a telephone interview. “The number of deaths, very high even today, however refers reasonably to people who contracted the infection at least 10 or 15 days ago.”
Italy’s crisis response could increase to as much as 100 billion euros (US$111 billion), Italian Deputy Minister of Finance Laura Castelli told La Stampa.
That compares with 300 billion euros and 750 billion euros mobilized by France and Germany respectively.
Merkel said there is little chance that German restrictions would ease before April 20.
Cases in Europe’s biggest economy are doubling every five-and-a-half days, she said.
“The number of new infections doesn’t give reason to ease the rules,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.
The outbreak is stretching healthcare system across Europe. Madrid has set up a temporary hospital in the Spanish capital’s main conference center and is using an ice rink as a temporary morgue.
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