MADRID: Spain's coronavirus death toll overtook that of China on Wednesday (Mar 25), rising to 3,434 after 738 people died over the past 24 hours, the government said.
The spiralling number of deaths came as Spain entered the 11th day of an unprecedented lockdown to try and rein in the COVID-19 epidemic that has now infected 47,610 people, the health ministry said.
Spain's armed forces on Tuesday asked NATO for humanitarian assistance to fight the novel coronavirus as both deaths and infections have continued to mount.
Like many other countries, Spain has been struggling with a lack of medical supplies for testing, treatment and the protection of frontline workers.
In a statement, NATO said Spain's military had asked for "international assistance", seeking medical supplies to help curb the spread of the virus both in the military and in the civilian population.
The request specified 450,000 respirators, 500,000 rapid testing kits, 500 ventilators and 1.5 million surgical masks.
"INFINITELY DIFFICULT DAYS"
With the numbers still spiralling, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday sought parliamentary approval to extend the state of emergency for an extra two weeks, until Apr 11 - the day before Easter - in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
"We are aware of just how hard it is to prolong this situation, but it is absolutely imperative that we keep fighting the virus in order to win this battle," government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said.
Spain, she said, was in "the decisive phase in responding to the crisis, a crisis which was testing Spanish society in the most unimaginable way".
"These are infinitely difficult days," she acknowledged.
The surge in numbers has brought the medical system to the brink of collapse, with more than 5,000 healthcare workers testing positive for the virus, or around 12 per cent of the total.
EASTER AND BEYOND?
Madrid region's top health official, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, said the crisis was "unprecedented in the history of Spain's national health service", suggesting it was likely that the lockdown would extend beyond Easter.
"I think we are going to have to extend (the lockdown) until after Holy Week, that these (restrictive) measures will have to continue beyond that," he said of the period running up to Easter which this year falls on April 12.
With the city's funeral services overwhelmed, Madrid officials have commandeered the Palacio de Hielo ice skating rink to serve as a temporary morgue.
"We don't have the logistical capacity to carry out all the burials and cremations at the rate at which people are dying," Madrid's mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told TVE public television.
The Spanish capital has also transformed part of a giant exhibition centre into a field hospital with 1,500 beds which could be expanded take in up to 5,500 patients.