Spain could be seeing start of coronavirus decline, mulls easing restrictions: PM

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Spaniards might be seeing the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic's decline after new reported infections and deaths decreased, following a two-day uptick.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered a hopeful tone  before the national parliament on Thursday asking for its endorsement of a second two-week extension of Spain’s emergency lockdown.

Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez speaks at a parliamentary session in Madrid, Spain, Thursday. Sanchez acknowledged that Spain’s government, and its regions which administer health services, were caught off guard by the crisis and left its hospitals woefully short on critical supplies, including virus tests and protective clothing for medical workers.(Mariscal, Pool photo via AP)

Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez speaks at a parliamentary session in Madrid, Spain, Thursday. Sanchez acknowledged that Spain’s government, and its regions which administer health services, were caught off guard by the crisis and left its hospitals woefully short on critical supplies, including virus tests and protective clothing for medical workers.(Mariscal, Pool photo via AP)

“The fire starts to come under control… This war against the virus will be a total victory,” he said, according to Sky News.

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Health officials reported Thursday 5,756 new COVID-19 cases and 683 new deaths attributed to the virus over the previous 24-hour period. That is down compared to new 6,180 cases and 757 new deaths on Wednesday.

Volunteers, wearing face masks and gloves, distribute food bags at the "Dragones de Lavapies" soccer association in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday. Amid the coronavirus lockdown, volunteers meet at the soccer youth club to distribute food to hundreds of families at risk of social exclusion. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Volunteers, wearing face masks and gloves, distribute food bags at the "Dragones de Lavapies" soccer association in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday. Amid the coronavirus lockdown, volunteers meet at the soccer youth club to distribute food to hundreds of families at risk of social exclusion. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Spain remains one of the world’s hardest-hit countries alongside the United States and Italy. It has seen 152,446 infections and 15,238 fatalities since the start of the pandemic. More than 52,000 patients have recovered in Spain, easing pressure on its hospitals and health care system slightly.

“Europe reacted late. All of the West reacted late, and Spain is no exception,” Sanchez said, acknowledging that Spain's government, and its regions, which administer health services, were caught off guard.

Like many countries, Spain is struggling to gauge the true extent of the virus outbreak due to a lag in testing the general population. Authorities recognized that several thousand elderly people have died in nursing homes without being tested.

Only deaths of people who have tested positive are being included in official statistics.

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Last month, Spain put in place some of the toughest measures in Europe to combat the spread of the virus – practically paralyzing the country. Officials said the measures helped to drastically cut the infection rate.

An empty street as the lockdown continues to combat the spread of coronavirus in downtown Madrid, Spain, Thursday. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

An empty street as the lockdown continues to combat the spread of coronavirus in downtown Madrid, Spain, Thursday. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

This week, Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said Spaniards will progressively regain their “normal life” from April 26 onward but warned that the “de-escalation” of the lockdown will be “very orderly to avoid a return to the contagion.”

The government has been tight-lipped about what measures could be in place once the confinement is relaxed, stressing that they will be dictated by experts.

In his request to parliament Thursday, Sanchez asked lawmakers to back a new economic reconstruction plan, the BBC reported.

“I propose a great pact for the economic and social reconstruction of Spain. For all the political forces who want to lend their shoulder to take part,” said Sanchez, who leads a left-wing coalition government.

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The prime minister is the latest European leader to suggest the pandemic may be stabilizing in the region.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the country’s lockdown will remain in place. Discussions are focused first on opening more of the country's industries.

A view of the empty Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps, following the coronavirus lockdown measures, in Rome, Thursday. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Karl Ritter)

A view of the empty Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps, following the coronavirus lockdown measures, in Rome, Thursday. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Karl Ritter)

Proposals being floated in Italy include issuing immunity certificates, which would require antibody blood tests, and allowing younger workers to return first, as they are less vulnerable to the virus.

Without giving specifics, French authorities are likewise speaking openly about planning the end of the country's confinement, which is set to expire April 15, but will be extended, according to the president's office.

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Meanwhile, Austria and the Czech Republic jumped ahead of other European countries earlier this week and announced plans to relax some restrictions.

Starting Thursday, Czech stores selling construction materials, hobby supplies and bicycles can reopen. Only grocery stores, pharmacies and garden stores are up and running. The reopened businesses will have to offer customers disinfectant and disposable gloves, and enforce social distancing.

Austria will begin reopening small shops, hardware stores, and garden centers Tuesday, and shopping malls and hair salons could follow two weeks later. People will have to wear face masks.

In the United Kingdom, government officials said there is little chance the nationwide lockdown there will be eased when its current period ends next week.

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Worldwide, nearly 1.5 million people were infected and around 90,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 337,000 patients have recovered worldwide.

The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.