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Spain defends pandemic response as case numbers overtake Britain

People during the COVID-19 pandemic in Barcelona. Photo by Reuters

Spain's government defended its response to the coronavirus pandemic on Monday after official data showed the country had overtaken Britain to register the highest total number of cases in Western Europe.

"Appropriate measures are being taken to control the pandemic in coordination" with the regions, the government said in a statement, after experts questioned its policies.

"The data shows that we are being very active in tracking and detecting the virus."

Health ministry data showed 1,486 new cases were diagnosed in the past day, bringing the cumulative total to 322,980, compared with 311,641 in Britain.

The disease claimed 65 lives in Spain over the past seven days. More than 28,000 people have died from the disease in Spain, while more than 46,000 have died in Britain.

The government also said it had tested nearly 7.5 million people since the start of the pandemic, with over 400,000 tested in the past week alone.

In the first half of April, Spain was second only to the United States in total cases before reining in its soaring infection rate through a strict nationwide lockdown.

However, the virus has rebounded sharply since the state of emergency was lifted six weeks ago, with average daily infections surging from 132 in June to nearly 1,500 in the first 10 days of August.

In a letter published in the journal the Lancet last week, a group of Spanish health experts called for an independent evaluation of the government's handling of the crisis and highlighted a litany of flaws.

One signatory, Ildefonso Hernandez Aguado, a public health professor at Alicante's Miguel Hernandez University, said a lack of qualified tracing staff was allowing the disease to spread unseen.

"Some regions have not understood that this was the key in the months after the lockdown and in the long term," he said, stressing that authorities should begin hiring and training new personnel as soon as possible.

He also pointed the finger at Spain's highly social culture: "This is a country that doesn't understand holding a celebration, or taking a holiday if you're not going to share them".