Spain’s Deadly Day Signals No Letup in Europe Virus Lockdown

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Coronavirus deaths accelerated in France, Italy and Spain, suggesting governments have little leeway to end lockdowns in a human and economic crisis that is straining European unity.

While new infections slowed in Italy and intensive-care admissions declined inSpain and France, officials said it’s still too early to relax restrictions that have brought wide swathes of Europe to a halt. France’s death toll rose sharply Thursday after data from somenursing homes were included.

25,200 in U.S.Most new cases today

-26% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​12 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

“I don’t know if we have started or are starting the downward path,” Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy’s civil protection agency, told reporters. “What I can say is that we must maintain the measures at a high level.”

With global confirmed cases at1 million, there’s no quick end in sight for suffering in Europe, where Italy, Spain and France have the most confirmed deaths worldwide. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to unveil measures to provide liquidity for companies as early as Friday as he calls for jointly-issued European debt to aid his country’s finances.

Italy, the euro area’s third-biggest economy, has been under lockdown since early March, halting non-essential economic activity and banning movement within the country except for work, health or emergency reasons. The mobility limits are in effect until at least April 13.

Government leaders have expressed concern that Italy’s debt market could risk a mass exodus by investors and that they would view any credit lines linked to the European Stability Mechanism rescue fund as stigmatizing the country. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said any ESM aid for Italy or Spain would have toflow quickly, though it would be earmarked for supporting health systems and the labor market.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported 950 deaths from the coronavirus over the latest 24-hour period, the most since the outbreak began. A shortage of beds in intensive-care units could ease after the number of new admissions declined for the second consecutive day.

A similar three-day trend in France suggests that lockdowns are starting to slow the pace of the outbreak, though that provides only relative relief. An initial, partial count at French nursing homes added 884 deaths to 471 new hospital deaths reported Thursday.

“We’ve never had so many seriously ill patients in France,” Jerome Salomon, the head of France’s public health agency, said Thursday.

In Italy, the number of hospitalized patients rose by 137, the lowest increase in at least a month. Italy’s death toll reached 13,915, while Spain’s surpassed 10,000. France has reported 5,387 deaths.

Spain’s latest numbers contrast with optimism expressed by the government. Health Minister Salvador Illa told lawmakers after the data were released Thursday that the “curve has stabilized and we are entering a process of slowing down.”

The U.K. government has begun a search for cold-storage warehouses to handle a possible overflow ofdead bodies, according to people familiar with the situation. The government has already converted the London Excel Centre, an exhibition space, into a temporary hospital.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledge to expand coronavirus testing is already falling behind schedule. His spokesman, James Slack, told reporters 10,412 tests were carried out on Tuesday and accepted the U.K. hasn’t been doing enough.

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The economic impact is hitting home across Europe.

Spain reported more than 300,000 new jobless claims for March, the biggest monthly increase on record. Germany could face a deeper recession than during the financial crisis as the pandemic shuts down large parts of Europe’s biggest economy.

The impact on 2020 growth could be “as strong, or even stronger” than the 5% contraction caused by the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Thursday in Berlin.

— With assistance by Tommaso Ebhardt, and Macarena Munoz Montijano

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