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Europe reaches grim milestone, surpasses 100,000 coronavirus deaths

The continent has become the center of the contagion.
Image: The coffins of people who died from coronavirus wait to be transported from Bergamo to Florence for cremation on April 7, 2020.
The coffins of people who died from the coronavirus wait to be transported from Bergamo to Florence in Italy for cremation on April 7, 2020.Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images file

Europe reached a somber marker Sunday, surpassing 100,000 coronavirus deaths across the continent, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Italy continued to have the highest European death toll in the pandemic, with more than 23,000 deaths as of Sunday, followed by Spain, France and the United Kingdom.

Despite the staggering numbers, Italy has nudged closer to easing some lockdown measures, but restrictions remain largely in place. The Italian government said it was evaluating procedures for how best to allow people out again.

"We are working on some proposals to soften the restrictive measures and let everyone live safely with the virus during the next months," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the newspaper Il Giornale on Sunday morning.

The government is under pressure from its industrial northern region to reopen as soon as possible, but lockdown measures will remain in place until at least May 3, officials said.

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the government would begin easing measures and allowing children under 12 to play outdoors for short periods of time. Spain's lockdown will remain in place until at least May 9, he said in a televised national address Saturday, warning that "the goals we've achieved so far are fragile."

Britain is fast becoming the European center of the contagion, as deaths passed 16,000 Sunday. Health care workers criticized the government over the weekend for shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as gowns and face shields.

"Too many health care workers have already died. More doctors and their colleagues cannot be expected to put their own lives on the line in a bid to save others," said Rob Harwood of the British Medical Association, a professional body that represents medical staff.

A spokesperson for Britain's Health Ministry said Saturday that a 24-hour help line is available for health care workers to call and report shortages in supplies.

"We are working round the clock, given the global shortage of gowns and other PPE, to secure the NHS and the social care sector the equipment they need," the spokesperson said by email.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to recuperate from COVID-19, the disease associated with coronavirus, after he left the hospital a week ago. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been filling in for Johnson during his absence.

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Last week French President Emmanuel Macron admitting failings during a televised national address. He acknowledged that his office had been insufficiently prepared and was caught off guard by the coronavirus outbreak, in particular by the lack of medical equipment.

"Were we ready for this crisis? Clearly not ready enough, but we have faced up to it," he said. "Let's be honest: Events revealed weaknesses, deficiencies."

Although the number of patients in France's intensive care units was falling, he said, the epidemic was still not under control, and he extended lockdown measures until May 11.

Other European countries, however, such as Austria and the Czech Republic, have begun easing lockdown restrictions, attempting the slow return to normal life, while many continue to eye Germany as a European model that has rolled out extensive testing and maintained a relatively long-term plateau of cases.