(Bloomberg) -- European officials warned against loosening lockdowns after the coronavirus outbreak claimed more than 3,000 lives in Spain and Italy over the weekend.
Strains in health-care systems increased as Spain said its intensive-care wards are stretched beyond capacity and a German public-health leader said the country may face a ventilator shortage. An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel said public life in Europe’s biggest economy will be restricted for at least several more weeks.
With France, Italy and Spain calling for pooled euro-area financial resources to stem the economic cost and Germany opposed, finance ministers are expected to discuss the way forward this week. Yet they can only do so much as governments in Europe’s largest economies implore people to stay home.
“We need to reduce mobility and turn all of the days of the week into Sundays,” Spanish Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz said on Sunday. “The premise is that we all stay at home.”
Italy, which has the most coronavirus deaths worldwide, reported 756 new fatalities on Sunday. Spain recorded 838, its highest daily number yet. Both countries together have more than five times the deaths reported by China, where the outbreak began.
While the pace of fatalities and infections showed signs of leveling off in both countries, officials warned against complacency. Spain said its number of ICU patients surpassed the national capacity of about 4,400 beds, forcing health-care workers to decide whom to treat first.
Politicians anxious to relaunch Europe’s economy sought to suggest a timeline for easing. Silvio Brusaferro, the head of Italy’s public health institute, said the most recent figures offer encouraging signs, though any move to reopen the country will be gradual.
The country’s current restrictions will likely continue through Easter before authorities assess any relaxation of the rules, Brusaferro said in an interview with Monday’s la Repubblica newspaper. “We need to see an increase in the number of new cases that’s lower than in the previous 24 hours for several consecutive days,” he said.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier cautioned Sunday “it’s clearly too early” to discuss easing restrictions now. Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff, said the restrictions will likely run at least until April 20, a plan the government will review after the Easter public holiday.
European Union countries remained at odds over how best to buttress their economies as the costs of countering the pandemic and supporting workers and companies rise.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s calls for coordinated EU action, specifically for the issuance of joint debt, have been met with German and Dutch opposition and countries have adopted their own bailout plans.
Deputy Finance Minister Laura Castelli told La Stampa the Italian government’s aid package could increase to as much as 100 billion euros ($111 billion). That compares with 750 billion euros mobilized by Germany and 300 billion euros by France.
More than 200,000 French businesses have applied for assistance to keep 2.2 million workers on the payroll during the virus-induced lockdown, Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced tighter restrictions on movement over the weekend, ordering those who work in non-essential services to stay home during the Easter period. Companies must still pay employees in full and workers will have to make up the hours by the end of the year.
In the U.K., restrictions — for now a three-week lockdown with schools and many businesses closed — could last for a “significant” period, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove indicated on Sunday. U.K. coronavirus deaths increased to 1,228 with 19,522 confirmed cases.
A key question for EU countries is gauging the success of quarantine measures. France, where the Covid-19 virus has killed more than 2,600 people, is looking at the number of patients in intensive care.
“If there has been less contact between people thanks to the confinement,” Director-General of Health Jerome Salomon said Sunday, “we should start to see a reduction in the number of new cases requiring intensive care each day.”
(Updates with Italian health authority comments from seventh paragraph)
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