Spain's coronavirus death toll slows ahead of lockdown loosening

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain registered its lowest one-day increase in deaths from coronavirus since March 23 on Saturday, as thousands of businesses prepared to reopen under a loosening of nationwide lockdown restrictions.

An overnight death toll of 510 brought the total number of fatalities up to 16,353, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Confirmed cases of the infection climbed to 161,852 from 157,022 a day earlier.

The slowdown is an encouraging sign for Spain, which has suffered the third-highest number of deaths from the virus after Italy and the United States.

At the beginning of April, the overnight death tally rose as high as 950, overwhelming the national health service and forcing regional authorities to set up temporary mortuaries in an ice rink and disused public buildings.

The country’s medical workers have been particularly hard hit.

Deputy health emergency chief Maria Jose Sierra said some 25,000 healthcare staff had been infected so far, representing about 15% of all confirmed cases.

Medical workers at the Severo Ochoa hospital in the Madrid region fought back tears and applauded at an impromptu wake for a 57-year-old nurse who died after becoming infected with the virus, Reuters Television footage showed.

A banner reading ‘Esteban, always with us’ hung from the wall, while his old scrubs were taped to a window.

As the rate of new infections and deaths slows, the government has begun to gradually unwind lockdown measures, which have kept most people confined to their homes since mid-March.

From Monday, workers in sectors such as construction and manufacturing will be allowed to return to work, though the government extended restrictions on movement across Spain’s land borders with France and Portugal for another two weeks.

Under guidelines set out by the government, companies must provide appropriate protective equipment and ensure employees have space to be at least two metres apart.

The lockdown has caused major disruption to the Catholic country’s renowned Easter celebrations, forcing clergy and worshippers to devise creative ways to participate.

In the eastern town of Villar del Arzobispo near Valencia, priest Raul Garcia held mass with photographs of his parishioners pinned to the pews, and invited them to watch the service online from home.

“It’s a way not to be alone in church and for people to feel like they’re accompanying me during,” he told Reuters Television.

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