Spain will promote coronavirus exams, registering more than 1,300 deaths


MADRID, Mar 21 (Reuters) – Spanish authorities said on Saturday they would boost coronavirus tests, possibly with the help of robots, as the number of victims in the country continued to rise, exceeding 1,300 deaths and reaching close to 25,000 cases.

The second worst outbreak in Europe showed no signs of improvement, as the number of deaths in a single day increased by more than 300 people from the previous day. Intensive care units filled at a hectic pace in some hospitals.

Health officials said cases were likely to continue to rise and they did not know when a peak would be reached. But they praised the restrictions imposed a week ago by the government, which declared a 15-day state of emergency across the country that prohibits people from anything but essential exits.

“We believe that social distancing measures are going to have an effect,” said María José Sierra, an official at the Center for Coordination of Alerts and Emergencies in Spain, at a press conference.

The death toll rose to 1,326 from 1,002 the previous day, according to data from the Ministry of Health published on Saturday. The number of cases increased to 24,926 from 19,980.

The death rate is around 5%, Sierra said, but suggested that the actual rate is lower since the tests have been done primarily on people in the hospital, which means there are far more cases than registered.

But the tests will increase: The government announced on Saturday that it had acquired more than 640,000 test devices and said that number could quickly reach one million.

Raquel Yotti, director of the Carlos III Institute of Public Health, said the first devices were distributed on Saturday, adding that the government was working on the acquisition of four robots that could bring the daily number of tests to 80,000. That would be an increase of 15,000-20,000 per day right now.

Authorities also said they were acquiring more medical equipment, including 700 ventilators. Around 1.3 million protective masks were distributed on Saturday throughout Spain for healthcare personnel and patients.

(By Joan Faus; Edited in Spanish by Juana Casas)