Spain PM says 'fire' coming under control as death rate drops

Madrid (AFP) –


The daily death toll from the coronavirus fell to 683 in Spain on Thursday, after rising for two days, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urging people to keep up the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The country, one of the worst hit by the pandemic, has now recorded 15,238 coroanvirus deaths.

The official daily toll was down from 757 on Wednesday.

However, there has been growing speculation that the death toll may have grossly underestimated.

Authorities in the Madrid region acknowledged on Wednesday that the number of deaths in retirement homes could be five times as high as that announced by health officials, who have not included almost 3,500 deaths of people who had not been tested for the virus.

The number of daily new cases also dropped slightly Thursday, bringing the total to 152,446. More than 50,000 have recovered.

Spanish authorities have indicated that the peak of the pandemic has been reached but asked citizens to continue to strictly respect confinement regulations.

"The fire started by the pandemic is starting to come under control," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament Thursday.

"Our priority now is not to turn back, especially not to return to our starting point, not to lower our guard."

Spain has been subject to a strict lockdown since March 14 which has been reinforced in the past two weeks by the cessation of all non-essential activities until the Easter weekend.

The lower house of parliament was expected later Thursday to extend the confinement to April 25.

The government has not ruled out further extensions, while stressing that the measures should be eased gradually.

"Within two weeks. I'm convinced I will have to extend the state of the alert again because the pandemic will not be over," Sanchez warned.

Debate in the parliament saw the opposition attack the government over its handling of the crisis.

"Spain is the country that has the most people dead per million of population," Popular Party leader Pablo Casado said.

"Are you not going to ask for forgiveness?" he asked Sanchez.

The confinement measures have led to the cancellation of all Easter processions in this Catholic country of nearly 47 million people.

However police said Thursday nine people had been arrested after filming themselves on a fake procession at Merida in the southwest.