Spain PM warns of 'hard days' as virus toll tops 1,300

Spain PM warns 'very hard days ahead' as virus toll tops 1,300

Pedro Sanchez televised an address to warn Spanish citizens of the coming days. AFP

Spain ramped up its battle against the coronavirus Saturday, mobilising 52,000 additional health workers and racing to finish construction of field hospitals as its death toll jumped by a third.

"We must prepare ourselves emotionally and psychologically for very hard days ahead," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the nation in a televised address as Spain reported 1,326 more deaths, the second-highest in Europe after Italy.

The number of infections across the country also shot up to 24,926, the health ministry said in a statement, adding that the capital Madrid remains the hardest hit.

"The cases are rising and are going to continue to rise in the coming days," ministry spokeswoman Maria Jose Sierra told journalists, saying nobody knew when the outbreak in Spain would peak.

Those who had died were mainly people over 70 and particularly the over-80s, she said.

"Nearly 70 percent of patients placed in intensive care units are more than 60 years old," she added.

Nevertheless, between one and two percent of those hospitalised were under 20 years old.

Authorities have called up 52,000 extra workers to help the country's health service as it struggles to contain the virus, including 14,000 retired doctors and nurses.

The new numbers follow a fresh spike in both deaths and infections on Friday.

Spain has issued lockdown orders for some 46 million people who are only permitted to leave their homes for essential work, food shopping, medical reasons or to walk the dog.

Around 2,800 soldiers have been mobilised to disinfect train stations and airports and to bring help to elderly, vulnerable people, said General Miguel Villarroya, chief of the defence staff.

Madrid and Barcelona announced Friday they would set up field hospitals in their biggest exhibition halls to deal with the anticipated growth in the number of patients.

The IFEMA conference centre would be fitted with 5,500 hospital beds, part of it dedicated to an intensive care unit, while a section of the Fira de Barcelona centre would be similarly equipped, city authorities said.

Officials have distributed hundreds of thousands of surgical masks, adapted hotels to treat the sick and produced hundreds of thousands of test kits.

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