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Spain Briefly Passes Italy In COVID-19 Cases But Officials See Growth Rate Slowing

A temporary field hospital set up at IFEMA Convention Center in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday. Spain is one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
A temporary field hospital set up at IFEMA Convention Center in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday. Spain is one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spain said early Friday that 117,710 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the country, briefly surpassing Italy's count to become the highest in Europe, until the Italian authorities announced a bigger case tally later in the day.

Spain's Health Ministry also reported 10,935 deaths from COVID-19. The country's daily death toll has gone over 800 for seven consecutive days, reaching a record 950 in 24 hours on Thursday.

In Italy, daily deaths from COVID-19 are now under 800, following weeks when they were higher, hitting 969 in a single day on March 28. On Friday, Italy's death toll rose to 14,681, with 119,827 cases.

Despite the increases, Spain's figures suggest that the rate of new cases in the country has begun to slow, according to Dr. María José Sierra, a spokeswoman for the government's health emergency center.

She said infections increased by 7% from Thursday to Friday, down from a daily increase of 9% a week ago. Daily hospitalizations are now rising by 10%, she added, compared with 30% in previous weeks.

However, some health care workers say Spain could be undercounting cases because of a lack of available testing. They say intensive care units are beyond capacity, and even though new material and equipment is coming in, it's not keeping up with the number of patients. Thousands of medical workers, including the doctor leading the country's response, have themselves become infected.

The autonomous regions of Madrid and Catalonia, which have the largest cities, have been the hardest hit by the outbreak.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez imposed a state of emergency on March 14, ordering residents to stay home except to buy food, go to the doctor, walk the dog or, in some cases, go to work. The government had initially allowed companies to decide whether or not to have workers come in, but starting this Monday, all nonessential businesses were ordered shut for two weeks, keeping even more people at home. Spaniards need a permit to leave their houses and can face fines of more than $1,000 for breaching quarantine.

The lockdown is due to end April 12 but an extension is expected. Sánchez's administration, which governs in a coalition without a majority, said it is seeking congressional support to address the socioeconomic and health care impacts of the crisis. The opposition, including the conservative People's Party and far-right Vox party, have not shown signs of support and have criticized the government's response.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.