COVID-19 deaths in Spain fell yesterday for the third day in a row – from 809 to 674 – with authorities believing they have reached their peak and the pandemic had entered its slowdown phase.

A total of 130,759 people were reported infected in the whole of Spain, an increase of 4.8% – the lowest percentage rise so far and the fourth consecutive day of the lowest percentage rise since the crisis began.

Catalonia remains one of the parts of Europe worst affected by the pandemic with a death toll of 2637 yesterday – a rise of 129 – but at 5.1% the lowest daily percent increase so far.

Alba Verges, Catalonia’s Health Minister, said this week could be a decisive one, and warned that the death toll could be higher, because it only accounted for people who had died in hospital.

She said: “This number of cases demands a lot from our health system.

“We need to increase capacity very quickly in order to cope with the rise in the number of patients in severe conditions we’re already experiencing. There are many deaths of old people at home that we will probably never know about.

“The priority is to be able to detect [active] cases.”

Verges added that she was now in talks with care and funeral homes to develop a system to register all cases.

Catalan President Quim Torra, meanwhile, has said governments have a duty to bear the economic and social cost of the crisis. Speaking during a radio interview, he said: “Governments have an inescapable duty to bear the cost of the economic and social crisis that will be triggered by the coronavirus pandemic rather than making citizens and companies pay the bill.

“All of the resources governments have at their disposal must be deployed to support our citizens and companies.

“If we were able to save the banks by spending €60 billion (£52.8bn), now we need to save the best thing we have – our people.”

Torra said the Catalan government would shoulder as much of the debt as possible to give people the help they needed.

He called on the Spanish government to put in place stronger measures such as a guaranteed citizens’ income and the suspension of taxes and social security payments for the self-employed.

“If we do all this in a concentrated, forceful way, as quickly as possible, we’ll have more time to recover,” he added.

“Otherwise, the situation will get even more complicated because things will start to fall apart as we’re seeing in Italy.”

He said his government was providing 90% of the resources being used to tackle the pandemic with Spain contributing only 10%.

Torra had a meeting yesterday with Spanish President Pedro Sanchez and other autonomous leaders, during which he called for the ongoing total lockdown at home to be maintained, with the exception of essential services.

Sanchez said at the weekend that total confinement would not continue beyond Easter, but Torra said that given the current burden on emergency services – with ICUs “at the limit” and hospitals “overloaded” – lifting confinement without mass testing of the population would be a “reckless” thing to do.

The easing of the lockdown should be “coordinated, well-planned, arranged with Catalonia, and effective”, Torra said.

Spain took over key Catalan services on March 14, following the declaration of a state of emergency.

However, Torra said hospitals were lacking personal protective equipment (PPE) and more supplies were needed for care homes, which he blamed on the failure of the centralised supply system.

He called for the return of powers to the Catalan government.

Although the Spanish government has said it had distributed 18.5 million face masks to regional health authorities, Catalonia’s health bosses have asked for help from China to cope with the crisis.

A letter from the Catalan government to Spain’s foreign ministry said the “exponential growth of critical patients” meant it needed an input of “experienced health professionals” who had worked with patients in Wuhan, the Chinese city where Covid-19 started.

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