A member of the public, wearing a protective face mask and gloves, offers a prayer outside the Palacio de Hielo ice rink, temporarily converted into a morgue for victims of COVID-19, in Madrid, Spain, on Monday, March 30, 2020. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Madrid: Spain's total number of coronavirus cases rose to 85,195 on Monday from 78,797 on Sunday, the country's health ministry said, as the infections surpassed those reported in China, at 81,470 according to the latest data.

The death toll from the virus in Spain rose to 7,340 on Monday from 6,528 on Sunday, the ministry said.

Spain has become the third nation to surpass China in infections after the US and Italy.

Spain and Italy make up more than half the world’s death toll of over 34,800 people from the virus that has upended the lives of billions and devastated world economies. Hospitals are buckling under the weight of caring for so many desperately ill patients at once. Italy has by far the most reported virus deaths, at nearly 11,000.

Spain's healthcare system is struggling to cope with the surge of seriously ill patients all at once, with hotels and conference centres being used as temporary clinics and Madrid's largest ice ink turned into a provisional morgue.

"While the isolation measures have reduced the pressure on intensive care units, in the coming weeks it will be significant," said Maria Jose Sierra of the health ministry's emergencies centre in reference to the lockdown measures the country has imposed.

The medical director of Barcelona's Hospital Clinic, Antoni Castells, said his staff would soon have to start to "rationalise the resources it uses based on the possibility that a patient will survive."

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"The situation gets more complicated each day," he added in an interview with Spanish public radio RNE.

The outbreak is also taking its toll on healthcare personnel, who complain of a lack of masks and other protective material.

As of Monday, over 12,200 medical staff were infected, up from around 9,500 on Friday, according to the health ministry.

'Great risk'

Jesus Maria Garcia, a nurse at the Ronda Hospital in the southern province of Malaga, said staff were using paper masks instead of FFP2 masks, which filter most particles and which health care workers need to wear when dealing with infected patients.

"To get a FPP2, you have to fight with someone," he told AFP by telephone.

"They have been telling us the same thing for 10 days now, that soon material will arrive. I don't believe it anymore."

He said two-thirds of the hospital was dedicated to coronavirus patients, with confirmed cases on one floor and suspected cases on another.

"There are people who come for other reasons and they face a great risk" of being infected with coronavirus, Garcia said.

Spain imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown on March 14 to try to curb the spread of the virus, banning people from leaving their homes except to go to work if remote work is not possible, buy food, get medical care or briefly walk their dog.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday followed the example of Italy and tightened measures to contain the outbreak even further by ordering a halt to all "non-essential" activities for two weeks.

The health, food and energy sectors are among areas considered to be essential but other sectors, including construction and most office work will be halted.