The staff at some Spanish nursing homes have abandoned elderly residents, and several patients have been found “dead in their beds,” as Spain struggles to contain the rapidly escalating death toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
The defense ministry confirmed that when soldiers were deployed to disinfect retirement homes after more than 100 patients died from COVID-19, they discovered several dead bodies. In some cases, some staff members had walked out after coronavirus outbreaks were detected.
“We are going to be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way older people are treated in retirement homes,” Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles said in an interview with TV station Telecinco on Monday. “The army, during certain visits, found some older people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds.”
The prosecutor general’s office said Monday evening it has already launched an investigation into the incidents of “elderly people, some of them sick, living in extreme conditions and with poor hygiene.” It added that in the case of deceased patients, the investigation would establish if there was a criminal liability.
But senior nursing home workers have hit back at the minister, claiming that they are working in dangerous conditions without the proper protective equipment.
They also said that funeral operators were not showing up quickly enough to remove bodies from the facilities, as they too were overwhelmed by the crisis.
“Workers are putting themselves on the line, without resources, without healthcare support, without protective gear,” José Manuel Ramírez, president of the Association of Social Services Directors and Managers told País, adding that people should not “criminalize” employees who are acting “like heroes and heroines.”
The pandemic is now spreading faster and more widely in Spain than in Italy, the country that has so far recorded the most coronavirus deaths. On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 514 new deaths in the last 24 hours, up from 462 deaths during the previous 24-hour period.
In total, 2,696 people have died from COVID-19.
To cope with the surge in deaths, a giant ice rink inside a Madrid shopping mall has been turned into a temporary morgue.
Also in Madrid, a huge convention center has been converted to a 5000-bed field hospital.
Unlike Italy, where 80% of the 6,000 deaths it has already recorded are in the same three regions — Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto — Spain’s infections have risen rapidly outside of the regions where it first saw cases spike.
The death toll has more than doubled from 1,000 deaths in the space of just three days — and experts like, Pere Godoy, president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE), don’t expect the spike to slow down any time soon.
“We are still in a growth phase of the impact of the virus and this will still last for a while," Godoy told El País.
Cover: Doctors and nurses from the Plató Hospital applaud after receiving the encouragement and display affection from the neighbors from their balconies. (Photo by Pablo Miranzo / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.