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Coronavirus: Deaths rise sharply in Spain while infection rate stabilises

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Spain has seen a sharp rise in the number of deaths caused by coronavirus but the rate of new infections is stabilising, officials say.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, rose to 64,059, a 14% increase compared with 18% a day earlier and 20% on Wednesday.

In 24 hours, 769 people died, a daily record, taking the total to 4,858.

Deaths among vulnerable people seem to be mounting, with residents at elderly nursing homes particularly affected.

Spain, Europe's second-worst-hit country after Italy, has extended the state of emergency until at least 12 April, with stringent restrictions on people's movement in place and most shops and businesses closed.

The latest figures raised hopes that the measures were beginning to take effect, with health emergency chief Fernando Simón saying they showed a "clear stabilisation". He added: "It seems that we're approaching the long-awaited peak".

The army has been deployed to deep clean hospitals and other facilities as well as some 900 nursing homes, where at least 1,517 deaths have reportedly been recorded.

Meanwhile, the health ministry said some 9,000 rapid diagnostic tests imported from China through a Spanish company had proved defective. It said the kits had European approval and their use had been suspended.

What is happening elsewhere in Europe?

In Italy, the head of the National Health Institute, Silvio Brusafero, said the numbers suggested the rate of new cases was "slowing down", showing that the strict measures implemented across the country were "having their effects".

He warned, however, against loosening the restrictions, saying: "We haven't reached the peak, we haven't passed it". Italy reported 8,215 deaths from coronavirus and 80,539 confirmed cases as of Thursday.

In neighbouring France, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe raised the alarm over an "extremely high wave" of new infections, saying the epidemic that started in the east was now in the Paris region.

Hospitals could reach saturation point around the capital within 24 to 48 hours, the Hospital Federation of France said. Some 1.2 million residents in the area have left in the past week, according to data analysed by mobile phone company Orange.

The country had 29,155 confirmed cases and 1,696 deaths as of Thursday. At the age of 16, Julie A became France's youngest victim of the virus, with her sister Manon telling Le Parisien newspaper: "We've got to stop thinking this only affects the elderly. No-one is invincible against this mutant virus".

Can EU get a grip on crisis?

"The EU is finished," gloat the nay-sayers. "Even faced with the coronavirus, its members can't stick together." Certainly EU leaders meeting on Thursday – by socially-distant video conference – glaringly failed to agree to share the debt they are all racking up fighting Covid-19.

From her flat in Berlin, where she is self-isolating after her doctor tested positive for the virus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly admitted to the disharmony over financial instruments.

What leaders did agree on was asking Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further, reporting back in two weeks' time. Two weeks. The EU is famous for kicking difficult decisions down the road but in coronavirus terms, with spiralling infection and death rates, two weeks feels like an eternity.

For ordinary people, frightened for their health, the safety of their loved ones, worrying about their rent and feeding their family after businesses shut down, the idea that leaders spent six hours squabbling over the wording of their summit conclusions in order to defer a decision over funds, will be incomprehensible.

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