Spain reported its deadliest day yet in the coronavirus pandemic, offering a grim reminder of the risks as Germany and Italy moved to prolong rigid lockdown measures until after Easter on April 12.
There were 864 new coronavirus fatalities in Spain on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed cases increased to more than 102,000.
Spain, which has been in almost-complete lockdown since March 14, and Italy are the epicenters of the outbreak in Europe.
Even though infection rates in some countries are showing signs of receding, European governments worry that easing restrictions too soon could backfire.
“Getting the timing wrong or taking decisions too early would end up canceling out the work done in these very difficult weeks,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
A little over a week after banning gatherings of more than two people, Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state leaders were expected to finalise an extension of the shutdown until April 20 at a meeting on Wednesday.
Over the weekend, Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in a newspaper interview that the decision to extend efforts to limit contact between people has been made.
Merkel and other German officials have pleaded for patience to give the measures time to show a lasting impact.
Germany has the third-largest outbreak in Europe with 71,808 infections. The disease has caused 775 deaths in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Flattening the Curve
Romania’s death toll continued to rise much faster than in any other country in central and eastern Europe, reaching 85 fatalities on Wednesday. A growing number of doctors and medical workers are getting infected with the new virus, raising concerns about hospital outbreaks that could endanger entire cities, including the capital Bucharest.
Alongside protecting public health, concerns about the economic fallout of shutting down large parts of the economy weighed on European leaders. Spanish bankers and lawyers are bracing for a steep surge in insolvencies, as some business leaders say aspects of the government’s 117 billion-euro ($128 billion) crisis response risk making things worse.
Germany plugged a gap in its 750 billion-euro rescue package by pledging to help startups with short-term financial assistance worth around 2 billion euros. “For these young, innovative companies, classic credit instruments are often not suitable,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.
In Austria — where unemployment jumped to the highest level since the end of World War II in March — the government plans to impose a three-month repayment moratorium on about 162 billion euros of consumer loans to ease the impact of lockdown measures.