Rome: Italy’s coronavirus death toll has topped 10,000 and Spain reported its deadliest day yet, leaving leaders of both countries groping for ways to tackle the crisis with Europe split along economic fault lines.
While the data suggest the pace of infections may be leveling off, the human carnage and economic damage aren’t letting up. Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose by 838 cases overnight to 6,528 the health ministry said on Sunday, marking the highest daily rise in fatalities.
The total number of those infected rose to 78,797 from 72,248 on Saturday.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced his government will order a two-week ban on commuting to all non-essential businesses starting on Monday.
Sanchez says in a publicly televised address that all workers are ordered to remain at home “as if it were a weekend” to intensify efforts to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Spain is approaching the end of the second week of stay-at-home rules and the closing of most stores, but workers were allowed to go to offices and factories if they were unable to work from home.
Italy’s fatal cases slowed to 889 on Saturday from a Friday record of 969.
With the goal of “flattening the curve” hanging in the balance, Italy’s Giuseppe Conte and Spain’s Pedro Sanchez took to the national airwaves ramping up their criticism of the European Union for being slow and failing its hardest-hit members in the hour of their greatest economic need. Both were at pains to remind the EU of its responsibilities.
“Look, we have an appointment with history and everyone must rise to the occasion,” Conte said at a news conference. His proposal to the EU, specifically for the issuance of so-called corona bonds, was met with German and Dutch opposition. In an interview with Il Sole 24 Ore, he openly questioned the “raison d’etre” of the bloc if it cannot handle this crisis appropriately.
Sanchez repeated his call for a European “Marshall Plan,” a reference to the US aid program credited with pulling Western Europe out of its post-Seconnd World War economic devastation.
While Italian Deputy Finance Minister Laura Castelli told La Stampa that the government’s crisis aid package could increase to as much as 100 billion euros ($111 billion), that compares with 750 billion euros mobilised by Germany and 300 billion euros in France.
Almost 15,000 coronavirus victims - more than half the world’s total - have in Italy and Spain, which officially are in almost total lockdown except for essential errands such as buying food and medicine.
Conte and Sanchez joined French President Emmanuel Macron in advocating a hefty joint EU response, exposing an EU rift dating back to the euro-area 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.”
Such proposals fly in the face of German-led resistance after Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week she prefers to deploy the European Stability Mechanism, a rescue fund set up during the debt crisis.
Sanchez didn’t spell out what is new about his latest containment policy, saying only that the measures “are of an extraordinary toughness” and require “social behaviour very different” from what Spaniards are used to.
French officials, already facing criticism for a lack of protective gear for health workers, warned of possible shortages of medication and coronavirus test equipment. Paper and clothing manufacturers are being asked to make face masks since France makes only about a fifth of the amount it needs, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.
“The whole world is facing shortages and demand for intensive care equipment is exploding,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters on Saturday.
As countries such as the US deploy extraordinary restrictions to fight the spread of the virus, the question for Europe’s leaders is how to hold the line.
There are some suggestions in Spain and Italy that containment measures are working as the pace of infections stabilizes.
“The number of deaths, very high even today, reasonably refers to people who contracted the infection at least 10 or 15 days ago,” Lorenzo Pregliasco, co-founder of Italian pollster YouTrend, said in an interview.
Germany is unlikely to see an easing of restrictions before April 20 as cases in Europe’s biggest economy are doubling every 5 1/2 days, Merkel said Saturday.
“The number of new infections doesn’t give reason to ease the rules,” she said in her weekly podcast.