Dismay among opposition as Madrid chiefs hold crowded closure ceremony at coronavirus field hospital

The event today at the Ifema convention center saw some health workers shout slogans and chants at regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida

Gloria (l) leaves the Ifema field hospital in a wheelchair on Friday.
Gloria (l) leaves the Ifema field hospital in a wheelchair on Friday.JAIME VILLANUEVA

“They don’t represent us!” “Public healthcare!” “We want testing!” “Phony!” Those were some of the chants from the dozens of medical workers who were at the closure today of the field hospital set up in the Ifema convention center to deal with the overflow of coronavirus patients from Madrid’s hospitals. The slogans were aimed at the Popular Party (PP) premier of the region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, as well as the other regional and local politicians who attended the event on Friday, including Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida, who is also from the PP.

During a speech that was more sentimental than political, the Madrid premier – who contracted the coronavirus and has since recovered – stated that the hospital was being closed given that “there are practically no infections” now in the region. “We still haven’t beaten the pandemic,” added Almeida, albeit acknowledging the “optimism” that goes hand in hand with the closure of a site that has been a symbol of the health crisis in the Madrid region, the worst hit in all of Spain by the epidemic.

The most-applauded of the patients was Gloria, 52, who spent more than three weeks intubated and in intensive care

Around 4,000 people with the novel coronavirus have been treated at the Ifema convention center since it was opened, and Díaz Ayuso once again referred to the site as a “miracle hospital.” The installation was opened on March 21, and on Friday it saw its last five patients – four women and one man – discharged.

The most-applauded of these patients was Gloria, 52, who spent more than three weeks intubated and in intensive care. She left the hospital on Friday in a wheelchair, and still connected to an oxygen tank. Health workers clapped her and she even managed to stand for the minute of silence that the regional government observes every day in honor of the victims of the pandemic. The patient thanked all of those who applauded and managed to lift her arms and make a victory sign.

Another of the last patients to be discharged from the field hospital was Patrocinio, 73. Hidden behind a face mask adorned with large cartoonish red lips, as she began her journey home she expressed her best wishes for the staff who took care of her. “I am sad for those youngsters around here who are on month-long contracts,” she said. “Let’s hope that gets sorted out.”

Not all of the health workers criticized the presence of the politicians, however. Some applauded as they passed by, or asked if they could have a photo together. “It was very moving,” said Patricia Ábalos, an x-ray technician who has been working in Ifema since March 26, and on Monday will return to the Infanta Cristina Hospital.

The regional premier and the Madrid mayor spent some time on Friday behind the counter at one of the food trucks in the field hospital, which has become famous in recent days for its calamari sandwiches – a traditional Madrid snack. “I’ve spent all morning battering them,” joked Ayuso, as she offered one of the sandwiches to the deputy mayor, Begoña Villacís, of Ciudadanos (Citizens). Ayuso has been the object of much criticism this week for defending the menus that children whose families lack resources have been receiving in their homes since schools were closed, and are sourced from the Telepizza fast-food chain.

“This is a fucking disaster,” said a high-ranking official from Madrid City Hall as he entered the hall

The event was well attended, but the majority of medical staff did not enter hall number 7 at Ifema, which is where the official speeches took place. Dozens of people were trying to get into the area, prompting surprise among many that the social distancing of two meters recommended by the authorities was not being observed. “This is a fucking disaster,” said a high-ranking official from Madrid City Hall as he entered the hall, which had been used to house coronavirus patients.

A deputy for left-wing Más Madrid, Mónica García, took to Twitter to voice her criticism of the Madrileño politicians for organizing an event with so many people, with her party calling it “irresponsible.” “They have used Ifema and the hundreds of health staff who have worked their fingers to the bone as a propaganda tool,” she wrote. “Today was shameful. Today, Ayuso brought together a thousand people to bathe in the adoration of the public in the midst of the confinement,” she added. Pablo Gómez Perpinyà, spokesperson for Más Madrid, used Twitter to call the event a “shameful spectacle and a lack of respect for all Madrileños.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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