Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the global coronavirus epidemic, started to ease tough lockdown restrictions yesterday that have kept people confined to their homes for more than a month and put a brake on economic activity.
The cumulative death toll from coronavirus rose to 17,489, up 517 from 16,972 on Sunday, confirmed cases totalled 169,496, up from 166,019 the previous day.
However, this was the smallest proportional daily increase in the number of deaths and new infections.
With signs indicating the situation is taking a tentative turn for the better, some businesses, including construction and manufacturing, were allowed to reopen.
But most of the population are still confined to their homes, and shops, bars and public spaces will remain closed until at least April 26.
People at main transport hubs were handed face masks by police as they went to work with interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska saying “The health of workers must be guaranteed.
Spain’s central government has distributed one million coronavirus testing kits around the country, and a further five million will be sent out in the coming days and weeks.
Lockdown restrictions have helped slow the spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April, but they have tested the resolve of people cooped up inside their homes.
The coronavirus is weighing heavily on the Spanish economy, with some 900,000 jobs lost since mid-March.
Not too many commuters are using Madrid’s usually bustling Atocha train station, road traffic is light too, with mainly public buses on the streets.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says the decision to restart some sectors was taken after consulting a committee of experts and any further winding down will depend on gains made against the virus.
However, some regional leaders criticised the moves, fearing a resurgence of the outbreak.
Quim Torra, president of Catalonia, Spain’s second-worst hit region, said returning people to work was “irresponsible and reckless.”