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The latest data on the evolution of the coronavirus have sparked optimism in the Spanish government. This was transmitted on Monday by health minister Salvador Illa, who put the focus on how the the daily increase in cases has slowed. A week ago it was 15%, last Wednesday it was 20% and today it is 8%. "The data allows one to say, with extreme caution, that if we are not already at the peak, we are very close," said the Catalan Socialist politician, who saw a "stabilization and slowdown in the epidemic curve". A similar message had been given last Friday from the government's Moncloa palace. "The data offers a window of hope," he reiterated today. However, he warned that even if the trend was confirmed, the pressure on the health system would continue. That is why he has made one billion euros more available to the country's autonomous communities - the regions - which, in practice, run the Spanish public health system.

In a press conference from the Moncloa today at noon, the minister said that the state is already approaching the first of three goals: "reaching the peak". Then comes the "flattening the curve", he said, and "eradicating the virus, definitively." He allowed himself to be cheered, "cautiously", by the trend in the contagion figures. "There seems to be a sustained decline in new cases," he said, adding that the statistics on new cases "offer a window of hope." He also said that the total of patients who have recovered today stands at 16,780, saying that that number also "offers a ray of hope" in the midst of this crisis. However, he asserted that "this doesn't mean that we're not continuing to be under very heavy pressure" in hospitals and ICUs.

In this context, Salvador Illa announced a new additional provision one billion euros for the healthcare systems of the country's autonomous communities, which will come out of the government budget's contingency fund.Similarly, he stressed "the significant effort" being made to secure medical supplies for virus detection and protection.

Tests to be verified

Illa announced that today the first flight from China - to whom he expressed his gratitude for its help - will arrive with a million and a half masks and rapid virus tests. On this point, after the disaster of the failed tests which had to be returned, the minister made it clear that they have "all the certifications and approvals" and they will also be checked before they are distributed to the healthcare systems.

The minister emphasized that Spain is "in the top group" of European countries that are doing the most testing, with an average of 15,000 to 20,000 tests daily. At present, around 300,000 have been carried out, according to the ministry.

"It had to be toughened now"

The health minister defended the decision to impose the new tougher lockdown right now, in the face of a "dynamic" crisis whose evolution is being evaluated every day and measures taken in consequence. "The measure had to be taken this weekend," he said, responding on the matter of the internal debate that complicated the publication of the decree. He also made it clear that "this is not a confrontation between health and economy", but "for there to be an economy, we need health" and "to have health, we have to defeat the virus".

The interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, made a point of guaranteeing that there would be no problems of supply as a result of the tightened measures. "We are making available to the public the resources needed to guarantee supply and to enforce the provisions adopted," he said.

After that, wait and see

Asked if the state of alarm and the lockdown of the Spanish population would have to be extended for a further two weeks - which would bring the total to six - Salvador Illa replied that they were at present "concentrating" on applying the measures already taken. He said that they leave "all scenarios" open but that "they cannot be anticipated".

"If we are not at the peak, we are very close to it", said Salvador Illa. As he himself clarified, the peak he referred to is not the peak of total cases, but the number of daily new cases. Good news, but it still means that absolute totals of cases and deaths in Spain are likely to go on rising significantly for some time to come.