instagram envelope_alt facebook twitter search youtube_play whatsapp remove external_link loop2 arrow-down2

Worse than China: Spain’s death toll spirals to 3,434 as overwhelmed health service forced to improvise to cope

Test drive: Health workers in protective gear collect samples at a drive-through testing centre in San Sebastian, Spain

SPAIN recorded an overnight jump of 738 deaths from coronavirus yesterday — overtaking China for the first time — as its health facilities were stretched by soaring numbers of infections.

With 3,434 fatalities, Spain now has the second-highest death toll globally after Italy’s 6,820.

A skating rink has been turned into a makeshift morgue in Madrid, while dozens have perished across the country in overwhelmed nursing homes.

In the latest tragedy, 23 people — including two nuns — died at a home for the elderly in the capital.

Members of Spain’s military emergency unit have disinfected the Santisima Virgen y San Celedonio centre, home normally to 150 people.

Out in force: Soldiers in face masks stand outside hospital set up in trade centre

Armed forces chiefs have asked Nato to send ventilators, protective gear and testing kits.

Spanish medical staff, who account for thousands of infected cases, have taken out lawsuits against the government over a lack of protective equipment, including masks and gloves.

Spain is on the eleventh day of a 15-day nationwide lockdown which is likely to be extended to 30 days. Schools, bars, restaurants and most shops are shuttered, social gatherings banned and people confined to their homes.

‘We have achieved a near total reduction in social contact,’ health emergency spokesman Fernando Simon told a news conference, adding that Spain was nearing the peak of the epidemic.

As the overall number of cases leapt 20 per cent to 47,610 yesterday, authorities in Madrid started carrying out mass testing in a requisitioned fairground.

Apart from the health impact, the lockdown has dealt a punishing blow to the economy, with tens of thousands of workers laid off in Spain’s retail, tourism and manufacturing sectors.

Bunk down: Beds are ready at the makeshift hospital in Barcelona PICTURES: GETTY

Meanwhile, Germany’s leader Angela Merkel is continuing to work from home where she is self-quarantining after coming into contact with an infected doctor.

‘The chancellor is well,’ government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. ‘She is in close contact with members of her cabinet and also conducting international discussions from home.’

He said Ms Merkel would undergo a series of tests, adding: ‘If there are developments, we will tell you.’ Her initial test for coronavirus was negative.

In France, health authorities reported 231 new deaths from Covid-19 yesterday, taking the total to 1,331.

The rise represents a daily increase of 21 per cent, a slight slowing from the previous two days with the country now in its second week of lockdown.

This daily government tally accounts for only those dying in hospital but authorities said they would soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase in registered fatalities. It follows criticism by the president of the French Hospitals Federation, Frederic Valletoux, who said after the death toll passed 1,000 on Tuesday that the real figure was ‘much higher’.

During a news conference, health agency director Jerome Salomon said the number of cases had risen to 25,233, an increase of 13 per cent in 24 hours.

Leaders of nine EU countries including Spain, France and Italy called on the bloc to agree on a ‘common debt instrument’ to raise funds to tackle the virus.