Italy and Spain suffered their deadliest days yet from the coronavirus outbreak. The government in Madrid warned citizens that the situation will get worse.
Italy reported 969 deaths in 24 hours, and Spain 769. Italy now has 86,498 total cases, roughly the same number as the U.S. and more than China, where the disease’s first outbreak occurred. A slowdown in new cases in Italy was the one silver lining.
Both countries are in almost complete lockdown, with their governments counting on limited social interactions to help contain the spread of the disease. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez convened an emergency cabinet meeting to try to chart a way out of the crisis rapidly engulfing the nation.
“We may be entering a phase of stabilization, but we haven’t reached the peak yet,” Health Minister Salvador Illa said at a news conference in Madrid.
With Italy and Spain now reporting the most deaths worldwide, Europe’s outbreak is stretching health-care systems and in some cases forcing doctors to choose who should live or die. The head of the World Health Organization tried to rally support for the battle against the disease on Friday, even as some world leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump question the need for extreme measures.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was criticized for being slow to react to the epidemic, became the first world leader to say he has tested positive and is self-isolating in his Downing Street offices with “mild symptoms.” Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, also has the virus.
U.K. infections are doubling every three to four days, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said. Some 14,543 people in Britain have now tested positive for coronavirus, a 2,885 increase on Thursday’s tally. Apart from Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock also tested positive and the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said he had symptoms and would self-isolate for a week.a
In France, cases rose to 32,964 from 29,155, with a total of 1,696 deaths.
European Union leaders have largely recognized the danger but struggled to agree at a virtual summit Thursday on a joint strategy to limit the economic impact. They left key details to be hammered out in the weeks ahead.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in a video statement that while the ECB and the European Commission have taken “important and positive financial and economic decisions” to counter the coronavirus crisis, heads of state so far have failed to act collectively.
In the absence of a shared EU response, national governments have been going it alone. In Germany, the upper house of parliament gave the final green light Friday to a package totaling more than 750 billion euros ($826 billion).
While the death toll is still mounting, Italy’s health authorities sounded cautiously optimistic in recent days as new cases appear to be slowing. That was confirmed Friday, as new infections in the country slowed to 5,959, compared with 6,153 the previous day, civil protection authorities said at their daily news conference in Rome.
Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana, who heads the region with the worst outbreak, said before Friday’s death toll was released that a decline in cases may come in days.
Even as the spread seems to be slowing, evidence of its impact on the economy is starting to emerge. Confidence among Italian businesses crashed this month across all sectors. Consumer sentiment also deteriorated.
Alitalia, Italy’s bankrupt state airline, announced it will lay off almost 7,000 workers, while Arcelor Mittal’s Taranto steel mill, Europe’s largest by capacity, asked to temporarily suspend its whole staff, more than 8,000 people.
Italy’s gross domestic product may shrink by 6.5% in 2020, according to research group Prometeia. The government has pledged to launch a second stimulus package worth at least 25 billion euros in April, after approving a similar amount this month.
(Updates with French figures in eighth paragraph.)
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