Spain has reported another record single-day increase in coronavirus deaths and moved to further tighten its already strict national lockdown, as governments in Europe and beyond struggle to contain the pandemic.
Spanish authorities said on Sunday that 838 people had died from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s death toll to 6,528, with 78,797 confirmed cases. All non-essential workers are to be ordered to stay at home for two weeks from Monday.
“This measure will reduce people’s movement even further, but it will reduce the risk of contagion and allow us to unblock our intensive care units,” the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said in a televised address on Saturday night.
Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, said the situation was stabilising but “the main problem is making sure intensive care units aren’t overloaded”. ICUs in six of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions were operating at full capacity.
Spain and Italy account for more than half of the world’s death toll from Covid-19 and are each still seeing more than 800 deaths a day. According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, the virus has now infected more than 680,000 people and killed more than 31,000 around the world.
Sànchez described the crisis as “the most difficult moment for the EU since its foundation” and said the 27-member bloc had to be “ready to rise to the challenge”.
Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, late on Saturday also urged Europe to show it was capable of responding. “I will fight to the last drop of sweat, the last gram of energy, to obtain a strong, vigorous, cohesive European response,” Conte said.
The country’s deputy health minister, Pierpaolo Sileri, told the BBC he expected the country to hit its infection peak in a week or 10 days “at most”.
Spain, Italy, France and six other members have asked the EU to issue “coronabonds” – a collective debt instrument – to help finance countries’ response to the pandemic, but the Netherlands, Austria and Germany have so far firmly rejected the idea.
Several European countries have turned to China, where the epidemic originated but is now easing, for much-needed medical supplies such as protective masks and testing kits.
But after Spain on Friday withdrew 58,000 Chinese-made coronavirus testing kits after discovering they had an accuracy rate of just 30%, the Netherlands – which has recorded 771 deaths, with more than 10,000 confirmed cases – on Sunday recalled 600,000 Chinese face masks when they, too, were found to be defective.
The Dutch health ministry said two separate tests showed the KN95 masks, supposedly capable of filtering 95% of particles, “did not meet the required standards”. The entire shipment of 1.3m masks would be returned, it said.
France, which has reported 37,575 confirmed cases and a death toll of 2,314, excluding fatalities in its 7,000 retirement homes, evacuated 36 more patients from the hard-hit east to western areas on Sunday, hoping to free up intensive care units.
Two high-speed trains carried patients from Mulhouse and Nancy toward hospitals along France’s western coast, where the outbreak has been limited so far. “We have to free up beds, it’s absolutely crucial that we air out these intensive care units,” said Francois Brun, the head of emergency services at the regional hospital in nearby Metz.
A German military plane was also used to carry patients from Alsace to hospitals in Stuttgart and Ulm. Nearly 4,300 patients are in intensive care in France, which is racing to treble its ICU bed capacity from about 5,000 before the outbreak began.
In other developments:
Patrick Devedjian, a former French cabinet minister and prominent local politician, died in hospital after being tested positive. He was 75.
Thomas Schaefer, the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state, took his own life apparently after becoming “deeply worried” about how to cope with the economic fallout from the epidemic.
The main opposition candidate in Polish presidential elections called for the vote to be boycotted if the government insists on going ahead with it on 10 May.
Pope Francis called for a ceasefire in all conflicts around the globe to focus on the “fight of our lives” against Covid-19.
Egypt shut its beaches as cases in the Middle East surpassed 50,000.
Tokyo confirmed 68 new coronavirus cases, another record daily increase.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced further restrictions including limiting public gatherings to just two people.
All travellers entering South Korea will face two weeks of mandatory quarantine starting at midnight next Wednesday.
China continued to relax restrictions, with flights from Hubei province and tube and bus services in Wuhan city, the centre of the outbreak, resuming this weekend.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Sunday that the “new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as the country’s death toll rose to 2,640 and its number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309. “We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered,” he said.
In the US, which has reported nearly 125,000 cases and where the death toll has more than doubled in three days, to 2,100, Donald Trump backtracked on a threat to quarantine New York and neighbouring states, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning against all non-essential travel in the region.
“Due to extensive community transmission of Covid-19 in the area, CDC urges residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately,” the warning said.