By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Spain's Health Ministry reported a major surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, new infections, and deaths on Tuesday, as more regional governments scrambled to curb the contagion.
Another 34,291 cases were confirmed Tuesday, up significantly from the 25,438 reported last Tuesday.
Within the last two weeks, a staggering 335,867 people in Spain have tested positive for COVID-19.
The record levels of infections have meant a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in Spanish hospitals.
Currently, 21,185 patients are hospitalized — more than double the number of active COVID-19 patients reported on New Year's Eve.
Of those, 3,416 are fighting for their lives in intensive care units, using 34% of all available ICUs in the country.
In La Rioja, Melilla, Valencia, and Catalonia, the figure is closer to 50%.
On Tuesday, another 404 patients were reported to have died across the country, taking the number of lives lost so far past 54,000.
The government of Valencia, which is dealing with a situation worse than at any point in the pandemic, announced it is shutting down all bars and restaurants starting Tuesday.
Non-essential shops will also have to close by 6 p.m. [1700GMT].
On Monday, Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simon said closing indoor seating areas of bars and restaurants has proven one of the most effective measures for curbing infections.
The government of Madrid, which has seen its infection rate more than double in the past two weeks, is refusing to take similar measures.
“Don’t count on me to ruin Spain’s hospitality sector even more,” Madrid premier Isabel Ayuso said in a press conference on Tuesday.
The head of Spain’s Hospitality Association also called for Simon to resign over his comments.
Meanwhile, doctors and other experts are calling for stricter lockdowns, something Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa says is still not under consideration.
Spain’s experts attribute the third wave, now worse than the second, to the relaxation of measures during the country’s three-week holiday season.
The Spanish government announced on Tuesday that it is extending its furlough scheme, which has benefited millions since the pandemic began and was set to expire at the end of January, until May 31.