Coronavirus: Spain PM sees 'fire coming under control'

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image captionMedical workers react as they take part in the nationwide daily gratitude applause

Spain is close to passing the worst of its coronavirus outbreak, the prime minister said, as the Spanish parliament approved a 15-day extension to the national state of emergency.

"The fire starts to come under control," PM Pedro Sánchez told MPs in Madrid, saying the country would have “total victory” over the virus.

Spain has Europe's highest number of confirmed cases, with 152,446.

As of Thursday, the country has reported 15,238 deaths.

Mr Sánchez is the latest European leader to suggest the situation may be stabilising.

His comments came ahead of news that EU finance ministers had agreed a €500bn (£440bn; $546bn) rescue package for European countries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal, reached after marathon discussions in Brussels that began on Tuesday, was announced by the chairman of the Eurogroup finance ministers, Mário Centeno.

The French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, said the agreement was the most important economic plan in EU history. The ministers fell short of accepting a demand by France and Italy to share out the cost of the crisis by issuing so-called "corona bonds" (or eurobonds) - mutualised debt that all EU nations help to pay off.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country rejected a plan to share out coronavirus-incurred debt in the form of "coronabonds" (or eurobonds) - mutualised debt that all EU nations help to pay off.

"You know that I don't believe we should have common debt because of the situation of our political union and that's why we reject this... but there are so many ways to show solidarity and I believe we will find a good solution," she said.

media captionItalian PM Giuseppe Conte told the BBC in April how the lockdown could be eased

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte earlier told the BBC: "If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real."

What’s the latest in Spain?

According to latest data from the past 24 hours, Spain has recorded 683 deaths – a drop from the 757 reported on Wednesday.

Total confirmed cases now stand at 152,446, and Spain has now reported the second-highest number worldwide after the US, which has more than 400,000.

On Thursday, Spanish lawmakers participated remotely in a parliamentary debate before agreeing hours later to extend the country's state of emergency until 26 April, keeping people at home for a further two weeks.

media captionSpanish doctor 'scared and exhausted' by pandemic

Spain has imposed some of the strictest measures in Europe. But Mr Sánchez said they had helped drastically cut the infection rate.

Europe is still the region hardest-hit by the outbreak worldwide, suffering the majority of deaths and confirmed cases.

How will lockdown be relaxed after Easter?

Countries across the continent are, however, moving towards a gradual easing of lockdown measures, and leaders have begun to sound more positive in recent days.

Small, non-essential shops are set to open in Austria and Czech Republic next week. Denmark’s schools and kindergartens will reopen on 15 April, and Norway’s on 20 April.

In Germany, health minister Jens Spahn suggested on Thursday there could be “a gradual return to normality” after Easter if the current positive trend in numbers continues.

media captionCoronavirus: Lessons for lockdown from an Italian family

Switzerland’s daily death tolls have decreased for almost a week, while Belgium has for the first time recorded a drop in the number of people being treated in hospital for the virus.

Italy, which has the highest death toll worldwide, is also considering how to ease its restrictions. The infection rate there has slowed significantly from the peak of the outbreak, although Mr Conte warned the country still needed to be cautious.

"We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” he said.

There are widespread concerns, however, about the Easter weekend, when people usually travel to see loved ones. Many countries have launched campaigns appealing for people to stay at home over the long weekend.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said nice weather was no excuse for gatherings, and said the situation remains “dangerous and deceptive, because the virus has not yet been defeated”.

Portugal has tightened lockdown measures for Easter, with a ban on people leaving their local area without official documentation.

Prime Minister António Costa has, however, suggested schools could reopen on 4 May.

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