Spains COVID-19 cases surpassed Italy as Europes two main epicenters continue to struggle to curtail the virus, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announcing plans to extend the countrys lockdown by two weeks until April 25.
“I understand its difficult to extend the effort and sacrifice two more weeks,” Sanchez said in a televised speech on Saturday. “These are very difficult days for everyone.” A longer lockdown would need the approval of cabinet and congress.
Confirmed cases increased by 7,026 to 124,736 over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data, while deaths rose by 809 to 11,744. Total cases are now higher than Italys 119,827.
A slower pace of fatalities and new cases though is offering hope that Spains outbreak may be edging toward a peak. Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Friday that the goal of slowing the epidemic was “within reach.”
Spains economy is already taking a hit from the virus: The purchasing managers index for Spanish services fell to a record low of 23 in March, while jobless claims in the month had their biggest ever increase.
The government in Madrid has imposed some of the most restrictive lockdown measures in Europe, shuttering most businesses and forcing people to stay in their homes except to buy groceries and seek health care. Containment measures across the continent have cut off border passages and limited air travel, while countries have announced trillions of euros in aid to support businesses and individuals.
Italys ruling parties and the Treasury reached an agreement to free up an additional 200 billion euros ($216 billion) of liquidity for firms, according to daily newspaper La Stampa. It said the moves, part of a new aid decree, will be approved by Monday and will let companies seek bank loans for as much as 25% of their revenue, most of which will be granted by the state.
Meanwhile Polands 100 billion-zloty ($23.6 billion) support mechanism for businesses affected by the outbreak secured European Union antitrust approval, according to a statement from the European Commission in Brussels.