More than 30,000 people have died worldwide in the coronavirus pandemic, two-thirds of them in Europe, according to an AFP tally on Saturday evening.
In total, 30,003 lives have been lost with 21,334 of those in Europe where Italy has the highest number of fatalities with 10,023 deaths, followed by Spain with 5,690, the tally based on official information sources found. China, Iran and Frnace have also seen over 2,000 deaths and the US tally was also nearing 2,000 on Saturday.
In Italy, 889 new fatalities reported by the civil protection service came a day after the nation of 60 million registered 969 deaths on Friday, the highest national toll since the COVID-19 virus emerged late last year.
Italy now looks certain to extend its economically debilitating — and emotionally stressful — business closures and the ban on public gatherings past their April 3 deadline.
“Is it time to reopen the country? I think we have to think about it really carefully,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.
“The country is at a standstill and we must maintain the least amount of activity possible to ensure the survival of all.”
Italians had begun to hope that their worst disaster in generations was easing after the increase in daily death rates began to slow on March 22. But the new surge has perceptibly changed the Mediterranean nation’s mood.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italians late Saturday to be ready to spend more time cooped up at home.
“If one is being reasonable, one cannot envision a quick return to normal life,” Conte said in his latest somber television address.
Spain, meanwhile, toughened its nationwide lockdown on Saturday, halting all non-essential activities as it stepped up its fight against the deadly pandemic that has so far claimed 5,690 lives across the country.
Despite the grim 24-hour death toll, health chiefs said the rate of infections was slowing, suggesting that the epidemic was nearing its peak.
But the strain on intensive care facilities was a big source of concern, with the greatest pressure expected in about a week’s time, prompting the government to up the restrictions to slow the contagion.
“All workers in non-essential economic activities must stay at home for two weeks,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised address, in a measure that follows similar moves in Italy.
“The most important thing is to slow the number of people being taken to hospital,” he said.
“The virus is hitting us with relentless brute force.. (and now) is the time to intensify the battle.”
The move will affect those working in construction and other non-essential sectors although they will continue to receive their salaries, Sanchez said.
Madrid remains the worst-hit region, with 2,757 deaths and 21,520 infections, leaving hospitals and mortuaries on the brink of collapse, with officials working to open a second temporary morgue in an unused public building near the airport to house the dead.
An initial site was opened last week at an Olympic-sized skating rink at the Palacio de Hielo (Ice Palace) shopping center.
With undertakers also overwhelmed, the government has authorized the army’s involvement in the collection and transport of bodies for the duration of the state of emergency.
As the nation marked two weeks since the lockdown was put in place, Spain on Saturday received a first delivery of 1.2 million masks from China for health workers and those in the transport sector.
The delivery includes 387,000 surgical masks for healthcare personnel, 75,000 masks for the security forces and more than 725,000 for those in the transport sector, from bus drivers to airport staff and those working for the postal service, the government said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.