Spanish soldiers find bodies in retirement homes

A woman wearing a face mask as a protective measure, walks past soldiers deployed at Atocha railway station in Madrid to fight against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, on March 18, 2020. - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke yesterday with China's President Xi Jinping to ask for medical supplies to help fight the coronavirus epidemic which has infected more than 11,000 people. Spain yesterday confirmed nearly 2,000 new cases of COVID-19, sending the total spiralling past 11,000, with 491 deaths, the health ministry said.
A woman wearing a face mask as a protective measure, walks past soldiers deployed at Atocha railway station in Madrid to fight against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, on March 18, 2020. - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke yesterday with China's President Xi Jinping to ask for medical supplies to help fight the coronavirus epidemic which has infected more than 11,000 people. Spain yesterday confirmed nearly 2,000 new cases of COVID-19, sending the total spiralling past 11,000, with 491 deaths, the health ministry said.
Image: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

Spanish soldiers deployed to help fight the coronavirus outbreak have found elderly patients abandoned, and sometimes dead, at retirement homes, as an ice rink inside a Madrid shopping mall was turned into a temporary morgue to cope with a surge in cases.

The army has been charged with helping to disinfect retirement homes in Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

Dozens of deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded at facilities across the country.

“We are going to be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way old people are treated in these residences,” defence minister Margarita Robles said.

“The army, during certain visits, found some old people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds,” she added.

An investigation has been launched, the general prosecutor announced.

The coronavirus death toll in Spain surged to 2,182 on Monday after 462 people died within 24 hours, according to health ministry figures.

Meanwhile, the ice rink at the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, shopping centre in Madrid was turned into a temporary morgue to deal with a surge in deaths in the capital, a spokesperson for the Madrid city hall said.

Earlier, the city hall said Madrid’s 14 public cemeteries would stop accepting more bodies because staff there did not have adequate protective gear.

The improvised morgue would be used “in the coming hours,” the regional government of Madrid said.

“This is a temporary and exceptional measure which aims to mitigate the pain of the family members of the victims and the situation hospitals in Madrid are facing.”

A nearby congress centre has been converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients that will have a total of 5,500 beds.

The elderly are especially vulnerable in the pandemic and officials around the world are increasingly calling for extreme measures to safeguard them.

Retirement homes are “an absolute priority for the government”, health minister Salvador Illa said.

“We will exercise the most intensive monitoring of these centres.”

Under coronavirus protocols, health workers have been instructed to leave bodies in place in suspected Covid-19 deaths until the arrival of a doctor.

However, given the upsurge in deaths, the delay can be lengthy. — AFP

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