Despite rising toll, officials say epidemic in slowdown phase
MADRID - Spain's overnight death toll from the coronavirus edged higher again on Wednesday while the main business lobby warned the economy could slump up to 9 percent this year if lockdown restrictions remain beyond May.
The health ministry said 757 people died over the past 24 hours, up from 743 people the previous day, marking the second daily rise in a row and bringing the total death toll to 14,555 - the world's second-highest after Italy.
However, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the numbers were still consistent with a slowdown. The daily percentage pace of increases has roughly halved from the end of March to about 5 percent.
"There are no good numbers when it comes to deaths ... (but) we are now in the slowdown phase," he said.
Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, said Spain's outbreak was "definitely slowing" but he cautioned against over-optimism.
Overall, cases rose to 146,690 from 140,510 on Tuesday.
At the Sur de Madrid cemetery, Reuters TV footage showed local priest Eduard Batubenga giving a short funeral prayer next to a hearse carrying the body of an elderly woman who died at a nursing home from the COVID-19.
Shortly after, a 37-year-old victim was buried.
"Now, sometimes, at a set time, you get two services. While you are doing one, the other is waiting in line," Batubenga said, explaining that daily funerals had shot up to around 40 from 10-15 "on a bad day" before the epidemic.
The surging death toll is forcing families to wait up to a week to bury loved ones, and only a maximum of three relatives can attend the burial.
In a report, the CEOE business association expected the economy to shrink between 5 percent and 9 percent this year, sending up to 800,000 people into unemployment, depending on when the restrictions are going to be lifted.
It called on the government to declare a tax moratorium for companies to prevent further damage and allow a speedy recovery, saying that under its most optimistic forecast the economy, would rebound 5.2 percent next year.
The government has so far only said that it expects the virus to bring a recession, without more precise forecasts.
After the European Union failed to agree on more support for their reeling economies, Spanish officials warned the bloc's future was in jeopardy if it cannot come up with a joint financial response to combat the new coronavirus.
Government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said Europeans will begin to lose trust in the EU if it does not act together in the crisis, which she compared to the Second World War.
Spain, along with other southern European countries, has called for joint debt issuance, an idea opposed by the fiscally-frugal north, led by Germany and the Netherlands.