By Emma Pinedo and Joan Faus
MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) – The pace of new coronavirus deaths in Spain slowed for the fourth day on Monday, but overcrowded crematoria in Barcelona and the death of soccer coach Pep Guardiola’s mother showed the national agony was far from over.
Spain has the second highest death toll in the world after Italy, but data gave some cause for hope that the worst may be passing. On Monday, the country reported 637 fatalities in the previous 24 hours – a 5% increase in total and less than half the pace recorded a week earlier.
“The pandemic’s growth rate is slowing down in almost every region,” Maria Jose Sierra, deputy head of Spain’s health emergency committee, told a virtual news conference.
Exhausted but less overwhelmed than a few days ago, some doctors echoed that relief.
“We have noticed a decline in the number of people coming to the hospital emergency ward,” Christian Vigil, a doctor at Madrid’s October 12 Hospital, told Reuters.
However, the number of deaths was still traumatic.
Barcelona’s city government said cremation services were overwhelmed and some corpses would have to be temporarily buried and put on a waiting list for up to two years.
In the same area, the 82-year-old mother of the hugely successful Spanish coach Guardiola was among the latest to die, his current club Manchester City said.
The government will increase the number of road controls to more than 500 next weekend, when people usually travel during the Easter holidays, said Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.
“We must keep up the fight because this new stage is going to take as much social discpline and solidarity as the one before,” he said.
Many Spaniards were becoming frustrated at the strict lockdown they have been under since mid-March.
“My four-year-old daughter asks me why we can’t go out to watch the #Easter processions. That it’s not fair. That she wants to see them. And that she’s sick of the #coronavirus,” tweeted one mother, Sandra Eva.
Officials said for restrictions to be lifted, testing had to be widened beyond those suspected of having the COVID-19 disease and health workers, so as to find carriers who may have no symptoms or only very mild ones.
“We are in a new phase of the pandemic, where a reactivation of certain activities and sectors is possible but doesn’t imply we are relaxing our attitude … We are studying the terms of this transition,” said Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at the weekend the lockdown would remain in place until April 26, but he opened the door to easing some restrictions, such as keeping all non-essential workers at home, after Easter.
Spanish companies and households have taken up nearly all of the first 20 billion euro ($22 billion) tranche of state-backed credit aimed at alleviating the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, bankers said on Monday.
Monday’s data showed Spain’s total cases up to 135,032, the highest in Europe and second in the world after the United States.
Surrounded by piles of new coffins ready for shipment and her face covered with a mask, Maria Chao told Reuters her Ataudes Chao coffin-making firm near Madrid had increased supplies by up to 10 times during the crisis.
In a positive sign, checkpoints were lifted in Igualada and three other hard-hit towns in the northeastern Catalonia region, where there have been more than 100 deaths, the health ministry said.
(Additional reporting by Inti Landauro, Joan Faus, Belen Carreno, Juan Medina, Raul Cadenas, Clara-Leila Laudette, Richard Martin, Jessica Jones; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mike Collett-White)