(Bloomberg) —

Spain reported its deadliest day yet in the coronavirus pandemic, offering a grim reminder of the risks as Germany and Italy moved to prolong rigid lockdown measures until after Easter.

There were 864 new coronavirus fatalities in Spain on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed cases increased to more than 102,000. Spain, which has been in almost-complete lockdown since March 14, and Italy are the epicenters of the outbreak in Europe.

Even though infection rates in some countries are showing signs of receding, European governments worry that easing restrictions too soon could backfire.

“Getting the timing wrong or taking decisions too early would end up canceling out the work done in these very difficult weeks,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday.

A little over a week after banning gatherings of more than two people, Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state leaders are expected to finalize an extension of the shutdown until April 20 at a meeting later on Wednesday. The Italian government will keep its nationwide lockdown in place until at least April 13. Both countries also expanded backstops to protect their economies.

Over the weekend, Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in a newspaper interview that the decision to extend efforts to limit contact between people has been made. Merkel and other German officials have pleaded for patience to give the measures time to show a lasting impact.

Germany has the third-largest outbreak in Europe with 71,808 infections. The disease has caused 775 deaths in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Alongside protecting public health, concerns about the economic fallout of shutting down large parts of the economy weighed on European leaders. Spanish bankers and lawyers are bracing for a steep surge in insolvencies, as some business leaders say aspects of the government’s 117 billion-euro ($128 billion) crisis response risk making things worse.

Germany plugged a gap in its 750 billion-euro rescue package by pledging to help startups with short-term financial assistance worth around 2 billion euros. “For these young, innovative companies, classic credit instruments are often not suitable,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is working on a decree to guarantee liquidity to businesses hit by the nationwide lockdown. Urgent measures to provide liquidity to companies will be followed by a decree later in April to help families, according to a government official.

Italy has shuttered all but the most essential activities, weighing on an already sluggish economy. The unprecedented nationwide shutdown had been scheduled to end April 3.

Based on advice from scientific and medical advisers, “the government has decided to confirm until April 13 all the measures of limitations on economic and social activities and on individuals’ movements previously adopted,” Speranza said.

The number of new virus cases in Italy leveled off on Tuesday at a two-week low, a sign that the outbreak may be coming under control. Italy has 105,792 total cases, the most after the U.S.

In Spain, the number of confirmed cases increased by 7,710 in the past 24 hours, smaller than Tuesday’s of 9,222. Total deaths rose to 9,053.

Despite the declining number of new infections, “it would be an unforgivable mistake to see this first result as a definitive defeat of the virus,” Speranza said. “The battle is still very long.”

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source: yahoo.com

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