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Spain is first country in Western Europe to hit 1 million coronavirus cases

People hold up banners in support of the hotel industry in Pamplona, northern Spain.
People with banners in support of the hotel industry in Pamplona, northern Spain, protest new coronavirus restrictions.
(Alvaro Barrientos / Associated Press)

Spain has become the first country in Western Europe to register more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 infections as the nation of 47 million struggles to contain a major resurgence of the coronavirus.

The health ministry said Wednesday that its cumulative caseload since the start of the pandemic reached 1,005,295 after reporting 16,973 more cases in the previous 24 hours.

The ministry attributes 34,366 deaths to COVID-19. Experts say that, as in most countries, the real numbers of infections and deaths are probably much higher because of insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues that obscure the true scale of the outbreak.

As the numbers rise, authorities in charge of health policy in Spain’s regions are tightening restrictions. They want to stem the surge of the last few months while avoiding a repeat of the national lockdown that stemmed the first wave of coronavirus infections but left the economy reeling.

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The regional government of northern Aragón announced Wednesday that it had closed the city limits of Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel. Neighboring Navarra, which leads Spain in the rate of infections over the last 14 days, is preparing to become the first Spanish region to close its borders Thursday. La Rioja will close its regional borders Friday.

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa and regional health officials will meet Thursday to discuss their coronavirus strategies and consider employing nightly curfews to target late-night partying as a source of contagion.

Families in Spain face legal penalties if they refuse to send their children back to school amid a spike in coronavirus infections.

“I want to be very clear,” Illa said Tuesday. “Some very hard weeks are coming.”

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France is not far behind in Western Europe, with more than 930,000 reported cases. Russia has reported more than 1.4 million cases. The U.S. leads the world with more than 8 million reported cases, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Spain’s cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, which is a more reliable indicator of the evolution of the outbreak, has decreased in recent days. It is currently at 332 cases per 100,000, a figure that is still worrying but now lower than those of the Czech Republic, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Britain.

Despite the higher number of asymptomatic cases found through improved testing, pressure is being felt in Spain’s hospitals.

More than 3,900 patients have required hospitalization over the past week, with 274 needing intensive care, the ministry said. Almost 40% of places in Madrid’s intensive-care units are occupied by COVID-19 patients.


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