Spanish army finds abandoned dead bodies in old people's homes

Military had been sent in to disinfect centres during coronavirus outbreak, only to find staff had deserted them

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A man turns away after reading notices on the doors of a closed elderly daycare centre outside Madrid
A man turns away after reading notices on the doors of a closed elderly daycare centre outside Madrid Credit: AP

Fears were growing of a spiralling coronavirus death toll among the elderly in Spain on Monday after military units sent in to offer emergency healthcare assistance and disinfect old people's homes found an unspecified number of abandoned dead bodies.

According to Spain's Ministry of Defence, the military teams found most staff had stopped going to work in several privately-run centres after residents began to fall ill with Covid-19, leaving the sick and dying unattended. 

Defence Minister Margarita Robles said: "The full force of the law will be brought against those who do not fulfil their obligations."  

Spain was shocked last week when it was revealed that 25 elderly people had died of coronavirus at the Monte Hermoso home in Madrid, mostly without being transferred to hospital. Dozens more pensioners have perished in other privately-run centres that have been overwhelmed by the epidemic.

Spain's government used its emergency powers to place private residences under the control of regional authorities, and on Monday the CCOO union in Madrid warned of a "bloodbath" if urgent action was not taken in such establishments.

The elderly are bearing the brunt of the epidemic in Spain, with 67 per cent of deaths from Covid-19 involving patients over 80.

The discovery of the bodies came as Spanish health workers begged the government for help after shocking video emerged of patients lying on the floor of an overwhelmed hospital in Madrid.

Patients had to lie on towels or coats in the corridor of the Infanta Leonor hospital in Madrid as they waited for treatment, footage posted on social media showed.

Sources at the Madrid regional health authority confirmed to The Telegraph that the hospital had been overwhelmed by hundreds of patients at the weekend, with ambulances at one point being blocked from entering.

A spokesman for the regional government said there had been a "particular moment of crisis" at the hospital, but added that excess demand had been met by other centres.

However, health workers argue that the system is close to general collapse as staff are worked to exhaustion and an increasing number are infected, blaming defective and insufficient protective equipment.

"We are falling ill, we are exhausted. If this situation continues much longer, it will become unmanageable. If Madrid's health system is working now, it is only because of the organisation and solidarity of staff," said Jesús García Ramos, a spokesman for the SATSE nurses' union in Madrid and an A&E nurse.

"The WHO says test, test, test, but no one is testing us health workers. Even if you have symptoms, unless they are very strong, they hand you a mask and say carry on, so we are infecting each other,” Mr García Ramos added, saying that at his hospital in Coslada, outside Madrid, medics were reusing aprons after shifts and using low-standard paper facemasks after the surgical variety ran out.

Spain's health ministry has revealed that 12 per cent of the positive cases registered in the country have been among health workers.

Salvador Illa, the health minister, said on Monday that the pace of testing had increased, with between 15,000 and 20,000 carried out per day and one million fast-test kits likely to be purchased.

With new figures showing that Spain had passed 33,000 infections, and with 2,355 Covid-19 patients currently in intensive care, Mr Illa said: "This is going to be a very difficult week when we might reach the peak of the epidemic."

Madrid remains the front line in Spain's battle, with 10,577 cases, 1,263 deaths and almost 1,000 people in intensive care.

There is hope, however, that the strict lockdown measures imposed on Spain on March 15, due to continue until at least April 15, are starting to slow the pace of contagion in the capital, where the last two daily increases in caseload have been below 10 per cent.