Europe’s harrowing coronavirus battle continued on Tuesday as Spain turned an ice rink into a morgue to store dead bodies while Britain started a nationwide lockdown.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation warned that the Covid-19 pandemic was accelerating and called for “aggressive and targeted tactics” to curb its spread, warning that the United States could become its new epicentre.
European countries also stepped up efforts to calm market and business panic, despite promising developments in China where plans to ease the lockdown on Wuhan, the city where the first cases emerged, were announced.
Europe’s attention has turned to Spain, the second-worst hit country on the continent, as statistics showed a similar ” if not more daunting ” trajectory as Italy’s.
The Spanish health authorities announced on Tuesday that 514 people had died in the previous 24 hours, the nation’s worst day yet, raising total fatalities to 2,696.
With the daily death toll rising by almost a quarter, the country began to run out of space in mortuaries. An ice rink in a Madrid shopping centre was converted into a morgue to temporarily store some bodies.
Spain took only three days to see its death toll double from the 1,000 total registered on Friday, outpacing China and Italy.
Italy’s number of new Covid-19 cases dropped to a five-day low on Monday, easing the pressure on its overstretched hospitals and bringing a glimmer of hope to a nation that has lost the most lives to the pandemic.
“Today is perhaps the first positive day we have had in this hard, very tough month,” Giulio Gallera, the region health minister in Lombardy, the worst-hit part of Italy, said on Monday.
“It is not the time to proclaim victory, but we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Italian health authorities announced 4,789 new cases in the previous 24 hours, a drop from 5,560 on Sunday and 6,557 on Saturday.
It was also lower than the levels of Thursday and Friday, when the figures for confirmed cases were still rising.
The number of Covid-19 cases recorded in Italy has risen to 63,927, compared with 81,171 in mainland China, and its death toll has reached 6,077.
The overall death rate from the pandemic in Italy has further risen to 9.5 per cent, far exceeding the global average of 4.4 per cent.
On social media, many users mourned the death of Giuseppe Berardelli, a 72-year-old Catholic priest who died earlier this month at a hospital in Lovere in northern Italy after he refused a ventilator ” and insisted that a younger patient use it.
The grim lesson from Italy has led many European countries to adopt drastic lockdown measures to curb social activities and force many businesses to close.
On Tuesday Britain entered a nationwide lockdown that will last for at least three weeks following an announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson Monday evening.
Johnson told the country of 66 million that “the way ahead is hard” and warned that “many lives will sadly be lost”.
“People will only be allowed to leave their home for … very limited purposes,” he said. “The police will have the powers to enforce [the rules], including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”
Under Johnson’s new ban, no one can leave their home except for shopping for basic necessities, medical needs or travelling to and from work if working from home is impossible.
People will also be allowed to exercise outside once a day, but must do so alone or with members of their household.
All shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronics, are to be closed ” alongside libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship.
Social events like weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies are also banned, but not funerals.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to Britain, said on Tuesday in a web conference organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in China that China was planning to send one or two medical teams, consisting of doctors and scientists, to Britain.
“They will be here to share knowledge and experience. So there are a lot things going on here between our two countries,” he said.
Additional reporting by Wendy Wu
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