By Jessica Jones
MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday announced stricter lockdown measures that will force all non-essential workers to stay at home for the next two weeks, as the government reported 832 new coronavirus deaths overnight.
The latest moves to combat the virus in Spain, the second-worst affected country in Europe after Italy, will be approved at a cabinet meeting on Sunday and will last from March 30 until April 9.
“This decision allows us to reduce the number of infected people to a much greater extent,” Sanchez said in a televised address to the nation.
Over the next few days Spain would be making a “powerful collective effort”, he said, adding that the new measures would have the effect of extending the Easter holidays.
Workers would receive their usual salaries but would have to make up lost hours at a later date, he said.
Sanchez also used the address to urge the European Union to act and called for a “united economic and social strategy”. He urged the EU to issue bonds, saying “we have to mutualize the debt, issue reconstruction bonds to deal with coronavirus”.
“We do not understand why the eurozone, which shares a currency, does not share fiscal policy,” he said.
As Spain prepared to enter its third week of lockdown, hospitals and morgues struggled under the pressure and infections rose to 72,248 from 64,059 the day before.
An unused public building known as “the doughnut” was the latest to be turned into a makeshift morgue after a city ice rink last week, Spanish media reported.
Health emergency chief Fernando Simon said the epidemic appeared to be reaching its peak in some areas, but the nation was short of intensive care unit beds. “We continue to have a major problem with ICU saturation,” said Simon.
A delivery of 1.2 million masks bought by the Ministry of Transport from China for health, transport and postal workers arrived at Madrid airport, the government said.
In Barcelona, delivery workers with masks took free meals to health workers on Friday evening as part of the Delivery 4 Heroes initiative, in which six companies have joined forces to send free meals daily to up to 200 people.
“It is not only food, but a gift of emotion and encouragement to continue and to think that everything that is being done is really worth it,” Dr Luis Miguel Martin, who was given dinner at Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar, told Reuters.
Schools, bars, restaurants and shops selling non-essential items have been shut since March 14 and most of the population is housebound as Spain tries to curb the virus.
(Reporting by Jordi Rubio, Luis Felipe Castilleja, Silvio Castellanos, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Elena Rodriguez; Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Jason Neely, Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood)