With Spain reporting its deadliest day yet of the outbreak, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez convened an emergency Cabinet meeting to try to chart a way out of the crisis rapidly engulfing his nation.
Spain’s Health Ministry on Friday reported another 769 deaths, lifting the total number of fatalities to 4,858. Confirmed cases climbed to 64,059, with Spaniards near the end of a second week of a state of emergency set to last at least until April 11.
With the country on almost complete lockdown, the government is counting on limited social interactions helping contain the spread of the virus, which has already killed more people there than in China where the pandemic originated.
Spain is grappling with one of Europe’s worst outbreaks alongside Italy. The head of the World Health Organization tried to rally support for the battle against the disease, even as some world leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump question the need for extreme measures.
On Friday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first world leader to test positive for the coronavirus. Johnson, who was criticized for being slow to react to the threat, is self-isolating in his Downing Street offices with “mild symptoms” after a test confirmed he has the illness. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, also has the virus.
European Union leaders have largely recognized the danger but struggled to agree at a virtual summit Thursday on a joint strategy to limit the economic impact. They left key details to be hammered out in the weeks ahead as thousands fall ill and hundreds die each day across the continent.
In the absence of a shared EU response, national governments have been going it alone. In Germany, the upper house of parliament gave the final green light Friday to a package of measures totaling more than 750 billion euros ($826 billion).
They include a supplemental budget with new borrowing of 156 billion euros, as well as loans, guarantees and aid for companies. The government may also buy stakes in and even nationalize certain stricken businesses.
The Spanish government last week announced a stimulus package worth as much as 100 billion euros ($110 billion). It includes assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises — which account for the bulk of the nation’s economic activity and have been hammered by a collapse in demand — as well as tax deferments and loan guarantees.
Spain’s economy could shrink as much as 4.5% in 2020 due to the impact of the virus, according to a report published Friday by Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria.
“An extraordinary crisis like COVID-19 requires the use of all economic policy tools,” the bank said. “In this situation, fiscal-policy makers should do all they can to mitigate the possible permanent consequences.”
In Italy, authorities recorded the most infections in five days Thursday, with 662 deaths. The nation may need further stimulus measures worth 30 billion euros, newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reported Friday, citing parliamentary documents. The measures would be in addition to the 25 billion-euro package already announced.