Spain's COVID daily death toll drops, cabinet debates lockdown easing

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s daily death toll from the coronavirus fell to 301 on Tuesday, far below record highs of three times as much in early April, which should allow the government to set a framework for regions to start phasing out one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns.

Since March 14, most Spaniards have only been allowed out for grocery shopping or to go to the doctor, with the shutdown nearly paralysing the economy and the labour market.

The health ministry said the total fatalities since the start of the outbreak rose to 23,822, with the daily increase coming down from Monday’s 331 and also well below record highs of over 900 earlier in the month.

The number of diagnosed cases rose to 210,773 from 209,465 on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, the National Statistics Institute said first-quarter unemployment rate rose to 14.4% from 13.8% in the preceding three months, even though the data only partially reflected the impact of the lockdown that began two weeks before the end of the quarter.

“The figure of course is devastating,” Antonio Garamendi, head of the CEOE business association, told RNE radio. “The important thing is to resume our activities in order to really avoid this drama that we are living.”

According to forecasts by the Bank of Spain, the coronavirus crisis could push the unemployment rate up to 21.7% this year, with the economy contracting as much as 12.4%.

The cabinet was meeting on Tuesday to assess a range of parameters that should allow to further ease the restrictions in the regions with the lowest prevalence rates of the disease.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was due to outline the plan later in the day.

Spain recently began to soften the lockdown as it reined in the infection rate.

In the most significant step yet, on Sunday children under 14 were granted one hour of daily supervised outdoor activity. Spaniards are expected to be allowed out to exercise alone from May 2 if the coronavirus toll continues to fall.

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