By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - Spain's Minister of Education said on Thursday that 2,852 Spanish classrooms have been quarantined so far due to novel coronavirus infections, as the number of confirmed cases in the country soared beyond 700,000.
According to Education Minister Isabel Celaa, within the first weeks of reopening, 4.5% of the country's schools have reported infections and 0.73% of classrooms have had to go into confinement.
Yet, Celaa assured that schools "are the safest places" for students, even though it has become common practice for students to take off their masks to eat their morning snacks within the classroom.
"Educational centers are places of early detection [...] not places of contagion," she said in a press conference.
Celaa said the government's goal is to continue offering full in-person education throughout the school year and is not contemplating another total lockdown.
Yet, the figures related to contagion, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported 10,653 new coronavirus cases, not including updated figures from Andalusia -- Spain's most populous region.
Spain now records a total of 704,209 cases, making it by far the worst affected country in Western Europe. France has the second-highest number of cases with 481,000.
Within the last month, the total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has more than doubled to 11,041. At the moment, 9.5% of all the country's available hospital beds and 17% of intensive care units are being used to treat COVID-19.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported another 84 deaths, a drop compared to the previous three days when the number of deaths was above 150.