MADRID (Reuters) - Spain paid tribute on Monday to front-line staff battling a worsening coronavirus outbreak that has infected nearly 4,000 health workers, who make up more than a tenth of known cases in the country.
The virus killed a further 462 people overnight in Spain, Europe’s second hardest hit country after Italy, bringing the death toll to 2,182.
Nurses, doctors and other health workers have echoed the complaints of their counterparts in other countries, saying they lack protective equipment like masks.
The national health service is “demonstrating a great capacity to respond in an exceptional situation”, Health Minister Salvador Illa told a news conference. He warned the next week would be difficult, and that the epidemic could reach its peak in Spain in the coming days.
Health workers account for nearly 12% of Spain’s total 33,089 registered cases which rose from 28,572 on Sunday.
Military personnel have been visiting the nursing homes that have come under increasing pressure as the disease spreads, Defence Minister Margarita Robles told broadcaster Telecinco.
“On some of its visits, the army has seen some old people, the elderly, absolutely abandoned if they were not dead in their beds,” Robles said. She did not say what had caused those deaths.
Soldiers were also deployed to Barcelona to help build a temporary homeless shelter at the city’s Fira event centre.
The shelter, to be managed by the Red Cross, will allow up to 1,000 homeless people to isolate themselves in hygienic conditions, Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau said.
In Madrid, struggling with the highest number of cases, the municipal funeral home said it would stop collecting bodies from Tuesday due to a shortage of equipment. Private funeral homes are still operating in the capital.
City authorities decided to use an Olympic-sized ice rink as a morgue, near a conference centre which has been kitted out with hospital beds and already received 126 of the 1,300 patients it expects in the coming week.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo was hospitalized on Sunday with a respiratory infection, the government said on Monday, adding that the minister, who has born in 1957, is awaiting coronavirus test results.
Two other ministers and the wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez have tested positive for the virus over the past weeks.
The official in charge of the health emergency, Fernando Simon, said 87% of those who had died were aged 70 or older.
Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said a nationwide lockdown, which has kept most Spaniards confined to their homes, was beginning to take a heavy toll on the economy.
“Economic activity, which was dynamic until February slowed significantly last week,” she said, adding that the food, electricity and telecoms industries had continued to function normally.
Supermarket group Corte Ingles said it had set up a phone number and email address for health workers to do their shopping, with free delivery to their homes.
Reporting by Nathan Allen, Jessica Jones, Ingrid Melander, Emma Pinedo, Inti Landauro, Clara-Laeila Laudette; Writing by Ingrid Melander, Nathan Allen and Isla Binnie; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Pravin Char