MADRID (Reuters) - Spain has registered more than 23,000 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, health emergency chief Fernando Simon told a news conference on Monday, suggesting the infection rate had declined slightly from an Aug. 21 peak.
Health ministry data showed 2,489 new cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since the onset of the pandemic to 462,858.
"Of course we are worried because we have to stabilize and bring down the infection chain," Health Minister Salvador Illa told Catalonia's regional TV channel 324 late on Monday, adding that the goal is to avoid pressuring hospitals.
Illa said that the situation is not comparable to the pandemic's first peak in March and April, noting hospitals now have greater capacity. He said that nothing can be ruled out but it would be unlikely Spain would need to close schools again or impose a new state of emergency to try to tackle the virus.
Since bringing the first wave largely under control through a strict lockdown that ended in June, Spain has been hit by a sharp resurgence of infections as measures were relaxed and mass testing began.
On Aug. 21, daily infections hit nearly 10,000, their highest level since the peak of the epidemic in late March. They have come down to about 9,000 to 8,000 per day last week, updated health ministry data showed.
With the new academic year approaching and Spain registering the highest number of cases in western Europe, officials sought to assuage fears that schools could turn into vectors for mass contagion.
"If the appropriate safety measures are applied, the probability of transmission is negligible," Simon said.
Five people died in the past day, bringing Spain's total death toll to 29,094, ministry data showed.
Daily deaths, which tend to lag spikes in new cases by several weeks, have increased lately to levels last seen in June, but remain well below the late March peak of nearly 900 deaths per day.
(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus; editing by Bill Berkrot and Lisa Shumaker)