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Members of Spain's military emergencies unit (UME) spray disinfectant in the departures terminal during a deep clean operation at El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Madrid: The coronavirus death toll rose to 1,002 in Spain on Friday after 235 people died in 24 hours, and the number of cases approached 20,000, the health ministry said.

The spiralling number of infections has propelled Spain into the top four worst-hit countries in the world — with the figures growing as the country steps up its capacity for testing.

Over the past seven days, the number of deaths has risen 10-fold, the figures show.

More than 10,000 people have now died in a coronavirus pandemic that has swept from China throughout the world, forcing the confinement of tens of millions in their homes.

As the virus has marched westwards, the severity of the outbreaks and the focus of concern has shifted from Asia to Europe, with increasingly tough restrictions being imposed by national governments.

Since the last update around midday on Thursday, another 2,833 infections have been confirmed in Spain, taking the overall number of cases to 19,980, the ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said.

But he said it was “very likely that the figures underestimated the overall number” of people with the virus, saying the testing laboratories were “overwhelmed” which could skew the numbers.

Of those diagnosed, 52 per cent were in hospital and around six per cent were being treated in intensive care.

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A passenger wearing a face mask and gloves as a preventive measure pushes a trolley at the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport in Barajas on March 20, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Madrid remains the worst-hit area, accounting for 7,165 cases, or 36 per cent of the total infections in Spain, while the number of deaths in the capital rose to 628 — around 63 per cent of the national total.

Government figures show that 1,585 cases have recovered, three-quarters of whom are in the Madrid region.

Meanwhile, Madrid and Barcelona announced on Friday they would set up field hospitals in their biggest exhibition halls to deal with the anticipated growth in the number of patients.

In Madrid, the IFEMA conference centre would be fitted with 5,500 hospital beds, part of it dedicated to an intensive care unit, while a section of the Fira de Barcelona centre would be similarly equipped, city authorities said.

Over the last few hours, a total of 2,640 troops had disinfected the country’s main airports and ports along with retirement homes and prisons, General Miguel Angel Villarroya, chief of the defence staff, told the same news conference.

California worst hit in US

The US state of California, among the worst hit in the country, has told its 40 million residents to stay at home, the most drastic move yet in the United States to combat the pandemic.

However, the California measures will not be enforced by police unlike in France, Italy, Spain and other European countries where people face fines if they break the rules.

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Germany’s biggest state Bavaria on Friday became the first region in the country to order a lockdown for two weeks, imposing “fundamental restrictions” on going out.

The strict measures follow the template set by China, where a lockdown imposed in Hubei province where the new coronavirus first emerged appears to have paid off.

The country is now reporting on a handful of new infections each day, apparently from overseas visitors.

Italy is battling the single most deadly outbreak on the planet with 3,405 deaths, followed by 3,248 in China and Iran with 1,433, according to an AFP tally of official data.

Europe now accounts for half of the 10,000 fatalities linked to the Covid-19 disease around the world.

However, accurate figures are difficult to come by as many of those who die are suffering from other illnesses and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.

Scramble for treatments

The United States is showing signs that it is ramping up its efforts on all fronts, fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use as a treatment against the virus and promising a $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) emergency relief package to combat the economic turmoil.

The package — coupled with a European Central Bank plan to buy €750 billion (Dh2.9 trillion) in bonds — saw stock markets rebound on Friday with exchanges up throughout Asia and Europe.

US President Donald Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, said on Thursday that US officials would make antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine available “almost immediately”.

Experts are divided over whether the drugs are suitable though, having undergone only the briefest of clinical trials.

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Members of the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) carry fumigator backpacks to carry out a general disinfection at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat airport in El Prat de Llobregat on March 20, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

German and American drug firms are frantically trying to synthesise treatments for the disease and Chinese scientists are also carrying out clinical trials, though no studies have yet been published.

Trump also sparked an international row after he accused the Chinese of being secretive over its initial spread and severity, saying the world is now “paying a big price”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang hit back, saying “some people” were trying to “stigmatise” China’s fight against the virus.

“This approach ignores the great sacrifice made by the Chinese people to safeguard the health and safety of humankind, and slanders China’s major contribution to global public health,” he said.

European lockdown bites

Across Europe, governments continued to rigorously enforce lockdown measures.

France announced more than 4,000 people were fined on the first day of its confinement and ministers branded those breaking the rules as “idiots”.

France and Italy have both said they will most likely extend the confinement beyond the initial periods, while British schools will close indefinitely on Friday.

As Europeans battle to cope with the isolation, technology companies have begun to hint at the strain being put on their systems.

Both Netflix and YouTube, which both say they have experienced a surge in demand since lockdowns began, have promised to reduce the default image quality of streaming video in Europe to ease pressure on the internet.

The restrictions are also ironically bringing communities together in some places.

In sparsely populated rural Spain — a country that ranks fourth in the world for coronavirus infections — neighbours are pulling together to help the old and the vulnerable.

Sergio Caminero, 30, who lives in Lovingos, a hamlet of just 50 people north of Madrid, went to pick up some shopping for an elderly neighbour.

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Members of Spain's military emergencies unit (UME) spray disinfectant and clean vending machines during a deep clean operation at El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Image Credit: Bloomberg

“She’s older and is quite frightened and tense,” he told AFP.

The strain on public health and education systems as well as the economy is likely to deepen in the coming weeks.

The shadow of the virus is lengthening across Africa, which is no stranger to deadly outbreaks, but it has reported little more than 700 out of the nearly quarter million cases worldwide.

The global sporting calendar, shredded by the spread of the pandemic, still has one major event coming up that has not yet been called off — the Olympic Games, set to take place in Japan in the summer.

Japan Olympic Committee member Kaori Yamaguchi broke ranks with the official line, telling the Nikkei daily: “It should be postponed under the current situation where athletes are not well prepared.”