MADRID - Spain saw a huge leap of almost 5,000 infections in the past 24 hours, placing it in third place in the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.

Health authorities said on Saturday that the number of people who have tested positive for the pathogen reached 24,926, up from 19,980 the day before. The death rate soared to 1,326, up from 1,002 on Friday.

At least 1,600 patients are in intensive care, health authorities said, admitting that these units are working at their limits.

Madrid is the region with the highest number of infections, with at last 9,000 people testing positive.


Spanish Civil Guard officers at a checkpoint to stop drivers from trying to leave the city, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, March 21, 2020. For many people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it causes more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.  (AP)

Spain has spent a week under a state of emergency in which free movement is tightly restricted. People can only leave their homes to buy food, seek health care, for emergencies or to go to work in essential industries.

Fernando Simón, the Spanish health emergency coordinator, admitted that the authorities expect infections to get worse before the drastic measures can reverse the trend.

He said that in some Madrid hospitals, doctors working in intensive care units were inundated with so many patients that they had to be “a little more selective” about which ones to treat first -- as has happened in Italy.

Intensive care units in the Spanish capital were working at double the normal capacity, regional health authorities said.

The Spanish Navy had to intervene in a residential home in Cadiz in southern Spain after 20 members who were looking after the elderly residents were diagnosed with coronavirus.


Care homes for the elderly have been particularly badly hit by the outbreak, with the pathogen claiming at least 80 lives at ten residences across the country.

“I have lost my mother and father in 15 days,” a 50-year-old woman told El Pais newspaper.

A woman feeds birds in Las Ramblas of Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, March 21, 2020. For some people the COVID-19 coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it causes severe illness.  (AP)

The woman, who was not named, was crying outside a hospital in Vitoria in northwestern Spain.

“My father died a few hours ago from coronavirus, which he caught after coming to see my mother -- who died of a heart attack in the hospital on 3 March.”

Spain's left-wing coalition government promised an extra €300 million ($323 million) in aid or health authorities to help provide resources to safeguard the elderly in care homes.

The army and police have been deployed on the streets in cities across the country to enforce the lockdown.


Nevertheless, police in Madrid have handed out 3,000 fines to people have been arrested for flouting the restrictions. Citizens are required to carry passports or identification cards and proof they are going shopping or seeking medical care.

Most people are abiding by the restrictions and major cities are like ghost towns.

Video film released on social media by police patrolling the streets showed wild boar roaming central Barcelona while, in Madrid, peacocks have taken to strolling along normally busy roads.

Meanwhile, the Italian health minister on Saturday pleaded with citizens to abide by the rules of a strict lockdown.

Roberto Speranza was concerned that too many people were flouting the strict lockdown rules imposed almost two weeks ago.


Speranza called for a “great alliance” between citizens and institutions saying, “what counts is the behavior of every individual”.

People can currently go to work, food shop and exercise near their homes.

Italy has the highest number of cases at 47,021 in Europe, while the death toll stands at 4,032.