By Jesús Aguado and Inti Landauro
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s daily coronavirus deaths fell to the lowest in more than a month on Friday, with 367 registered in the previous 24 hours, as the government prepared criteria to ease one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns from next month.
The new deaths were just a 1.7% increase overall, down from 440 the previous day, and the lowest since March 21, underlining optimism that Spain’s epidemic was past the worst.
However, with 22,524 deaths in total, it still has the world’s third-highest tally after the United States and Italy.
Cases rose over 6,700 to 219,764 from the day before, but the rise in new infections based on more specific testing was much lower, at 2,796, meaning those cured, at 3,105, surpassed new infections for the first time.
“We hope the trend will continue in the future, which will depend mainly on how we all behave as we gradually have fewer restrictions on mobility,” health emergency coordinator Fernando Simon told a news briefing.
According to Cadena SER radio, the government started to outline thresholds on Friday for further easing of the economically-crippling lockdown from May for regions with the lowest contagion rates and least burdened intensive units (ICU).
For restrictions to be lifted, there must be no more than two daily cases per 100,000 people in an area, or COVID-19 patients must occupy no more than half of ICU beds.
The government has already taken some steps to relax the lockdown, such as allowing construction workers back and letting children take walks outside from this weekend, but broader restrictions will not be eased until late May.
Anticipating more people outside, the government started capping prices of protective surgical masks at 0.96 euros ($1.04) a piece, and of disinfecting gels and solutions at 0.015-0.021 euros per millilitre depending on packaging volume.
In Catalonia, Spain’s second hardest-hit region, the regional administration’s separatist leader Quim Torra criticised the central government’s handling of the epidemic, saying it would have worked out better “without impositions”.
He also called for more financial aid.
Torra urged all Catalan political forces to meet and unite policy over the epidemic, accepting a proposal from the opposition Socialists and centre-right Ciudadanos.
He was speaking to just a handful of lawmakers physically present in the Catalan parliament, which was set to approve later on Friday a regional budget for the first time in three years.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Jesus Aguado, Inti Landauro, Joan Faus, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Belen Carreno; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)