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Spain toughens lockdown after record 24 hour coronavirus death toll

Municipal workers wearing protective gear seal the niche of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victim at El Salvador cemetery in Vitoria, Spain, March 27, 2020.
Municipal workers wearing protective gear seal the niche of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victim at El Salvador cemetery in Vitoria, Spain, March 27, 2020. REUTERS - VINCENT WEST

Spain toughened its nationwide lockdown on Saturday, halting all non-essential activities as it stepped up its fight against the coronavirus, in response to the death toll surging to 5,690 after a record 832 people died in 24 hours. 

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Spain has the world's second-highest coronavirus death toll after Italy, as the number of cases reached 72,248.

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 worst-hit

Madrid remains the worst-hit region, with 2,757 deaths and 21,520 infections, leaving hospitals and mortuaries overwhelmed, and the regional authorities 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 the ice skating rink at the Palacio de Hielo (Ice Palace) shopping centre.

With undertakers also overwhelmed, the government has authorised the army's involvement in the collection and transport of bodies for the duration of the state of emergency.

The latest figures came as Spain marked two weeks since the imposition of an unprecedented national lockdown which will remain in place until at least April 11.

Earlier on Saturday, Spain received a delivery of 1.2 million masks from China for health workers and those in the transport sector, the government said.

The delivery, which arrived at Madrid's Barajas airport, includes some 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 port and airport staff as well as those working for the postal service.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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