Spain's Overnight Coronavirus Death Toll Rises, Total at 16,972

Spain's overnight death toll from the coronavirus rose to 619 on Sunday from a nearly three-week low of 510 on Saturday

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Las Ramblas during an outbreak of the coronavirus in Barcelona, Spain, March 18, 2020.
Las Ramblas during an outbreak of the coronavirus in Barcelona, Spain, March 18, 2020.Credit: Albert Gea/Reuters

Spain's coronavirus death toll rose for the first time in three days on Sunday, as some businesses prepared to reopen under an easing of the country's strict lockdown regime.

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A total of 619 people died over the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, bringing the cumulative toll to 16,972. Confirmed cases increased by around 2.6% to 166,019.

Tough lockdown measures have helped bring down a spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April, and the new deaths reported on Saturday were the lowest in 19 days while the increase of confirmed cases has roughly halved from a week ago.

All non-essential workers had been told to stay at home, but the government plans on Monday to revert back to less strict curbs that were in force up to March 27, allowing some businesses to resume activities.

That has triggered concerns of a resurgence in an epidemic that has caused more deaths in Spain than anywhere apart from the United States and Italy.

Catalonia's regional leader Quim Torra said in a Twitter posting that the government was ignoring scientific advice to "maintain total confinement."

Antoni Trilla, an epidemics expert and government advisor from the University of Barcelona, had said on Thursday that the stricter confinement measures should be extended.

However, Social Security Minister Jose Luis Escriva said a less strict lockdown was now sufficient to prevent the disease from spreading.

"What we have seen in the past days is the result of conditions that were in place between March 17 and 27, and which will still be in place from Monday," he told the La Sexta TV channel on Saturday.

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

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.

"We're talking about the worst economic situation since the (1936-39 Spanish) Civil War," he said in an interview with the La Vanguardia newspaper.

Industry Minister Maria Reyes Maroto said the tourism sector would be slow to recover.

Restoring confidence in Spain as a safe destination for tourists would be key, and measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as hand-washing and social distancing, would have to continue, even on the beach.

"Those patterns will be in our day-to-day lives for a time, you cannot take a step back," she was quoted as telling newspaper El Pais