Spain coronavirus deaths double overnight as daily life in Europe grinds to halt

Spain’s health officials reported Sunday the country’s death toll from the coronavirus took a dramatic jump in just one day--more than doubling from 136 a day before to 288.

The alarming news came as daily life increasingly grounds to a halt across Europe and beyond, amid efforts to combat the spread of the fast-moving virus.

Spain’s Health Ministry said there have been 7,753 infections, up from 5,700 on Saturday, with around half of them concentrated in the capital of Madrid.

Virus deaths surged in Spain a day after the government declared a state of emergency and took extraordinary measures to limit movement to commuting to work and necessary errands.

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An avenue is seen empty in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, March 15, 2020. Spain's government announced Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movements and closing restaurants and other establishments in the nation of 46 million people as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)

An avenue is seen empty in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, March 15, 2020. Spain's government announced Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movements and closing restaurants and other establishments in the nation of 46 million people as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)

The Spanish government has also closed restaurants, bars, most retail shops, and reduced public transport.

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In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced plans to limit people’s movements nationwide, shortly after the country’s Tyrol province followed Italy and Spain in barring residents from leaving their homes except for essential errands or work.

With new infections dwindling in Asia, Europe has become the main front line of the fight against COVID-19. The virus has infected 152,000 people and killed more than 5,700.

Kurz ordered Austrians to leave their homes “only alone or with the people who live in their apartment.” Austria has 800 infections.

Italy, the worst-hit European country with more than 21,000 infections and 1,400 deaths, ratcheted its nearly week-old lockdown even tighter.

The transport ministry banned passengers from taking ferries to the island of Sardinia and banned overnight train trips — which many in the north had been taking to reach homes and families in the south. Overwhelmed hospitals struggled to cope with the sick.

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“It’s not a wave. It’s a tsunami,” said Dr. Roberto Rona, in charge of intensive care at the Monza hospital.

People walk along La Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, March 15, 2020. Spain's government announced Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movements and closing restaurants and other establishments in the nation of 46 million people as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

People walk along La Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, March 15, 2020. Spain's government announced Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movements and closing restaurants and other establishments in the nation of 46 million people as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Spain’s lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose wife has tested positive for the virus.

“We won’t hesitate in doing what we must need to beat the virus,” he said. “We are putting health first.”

France, which has 4,500 infections and 91 deaths, went ahead Sunday with nationwide elections to choose mayors and other local leaders despite a crackdown on gatherings.

The French government ordered unprecedented sanitary measures at polling stations. Organizers kept people 3 feet apart in lines and provided soap or hydro-alcoholic gel and disinfectant wipes for voting machines. Voters were told to bring their own pens.

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The state of Bavaria in neighboring Germany, which had reported nearly 3,800 cases and eight deaths nationwide, also went ahead with municipal elections. Local officials said more people filed postal ballots than five years earlier, and election workers wore protective gloves.

A couple wash their hands before voting Sunday March 15, 2020 in Menton, southern France. France is holding nationwide elections Sunday to choose all of its mayors and other local leaders despite a crackdown on public gatherings because of the new virus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

A couple wash their hands before voting Sunday March 15, 2020 in Menton, southern France. France is holding nationwide elections Sunday to choose all of its mayors and other local leaders despite a crackdown on public gatherings because of the new virus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

At the Vatican, Pope Francis for the second Sunday delivered his noon remarks and spoken blessing from inside the Apostolic Library instead of from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He praised people who might risk contagion to help the poor and homeless.

Britain, which has taken a different approach and hasn’t yet restricted everyday activities, said it plans to set out emergency powers this week, including potentially requiring people over 70 to self-isolate for up to four months and banning mass gatherings.

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“We will do the right thing at the right time,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC. “We will publish the bill this week coming.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.