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Spain eases restrictions as daily Covid-19 death toll continues to slow down

A municipal police officer gives out free protective face masks at a metro station in Madrid, Spain, April 13, 2020.
A municipal police officer gives out free protective face masks at a metro station in Madrid, Spain, April 13, 2020. REUTERS - JUAN MEDINA

Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the global coronavirus epidemic, on Monday started to ease tough lockdown restrictions that have kept people confined to their homes for more than a month and put a brake on economic activity. 

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The spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Spain continued to slow down, with 517 new deaths recorded overnight and with the lowest number of infections logged in more than three weeks, nearly 3,500.

The Spanish health ministry’s Monday figures bring the overall death toll of the pandemic in the country to 17,489 and the total positive cases to 169,496.

Heavy industry and construction workers are returning to work Monday after a two-week hiatus in economic activity, but the government is keeping most Spaniards under confinement for the fifth week in a row.

People at main transport hubs were handed face masks as they went to work on Monday morning.

"The health of workers must be guaranteed. If this is minimally affected, the activity cannot restart," Interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told Cadena Ser radio station.

Lockdown restrictions have helped slow a spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April, but they have tested the resolve of people cooped up inside their homes.

Only a few commuters came in and out of the main entrance of Madrid's usually bustling Atocha train station on Monday morning. Road traffic was light too, with mainly public buses passing by.

Police handed out millions of masks early in the morning across regions that are not observing a public holiday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Sunday the decision to restart some sectors of the economy was taken after consulting a committee of scientific experts. Any further winding down would depend on gains made against the virus, he said.

"We are still far from victory, from the moment when we can pick up our normal lives again, but we have made the first decisive steps in the path towards victory," Sanchez said.

However, some regional leaders criticised the moves, fearing a resurgence of the outbreak.

One company reopening, Burgos-based industrial group Nicolas Correa, said it would take measures to prioritise the health of its staff.

"We will continue to work in shifts, with staggered entries and exits to avoid concentrations of staff," it said, adding that all workers would be provided with protective equipment.

European Central Bank Vice-President Luis de Guindos said Spain's reliance on tourism would likely leave it exposed to a worse recession than the rest of Europe.

The coronavirus is weighing heavily on the Spanish economy, with some 900,000 jobs lost since mid-March.

"We're talking about the worst economic situation since the (1936-39 Spanish) Civil War," the former Spanish economy minister said in Sunday's La Vanguardia newspaper.

Traditional festivals have also been disrupted by the epidemic.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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