CORONAVIRUS

Spain reports three coronavirus deaths as infections continue to climb

Demand for face masks is skyrocketing and hospitals have introduced security measures due to theft of protective gear

The Txagorritzu hospital in Vitoria, where several health workers have been infected with the virus.
The Txagorritzu hospital in Vitoria, where several health workers have been infected with the virus.LINO GONZALEZ RICO

An 82-year-old man who was infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus died in the Basque Country on Wednesday, becoming Spain’s second official fatality from a global outbreak that has affected more than 95,400 people worldwide. And on Thursday it emerged that a 99-year-old woman, who had other medical complications, was also infected with the virus when she died on March 3 in the Gregorio Marañón hospital in the city of Madrid, becoming the third official victim in Spain of the epidemic.

The number of infections had climbed to 242 in Spain by midday Thursday, after more cases were detected in the northern region of Asturias and on the Balearic island of Mallorca.

At Valladolid’s Clínico Hospital, 5,000 face masks disappeared last week

Authorities in the Valencia region, where the first death from coronavirus was reported, are now investigating whether two more deaths in February from unexplained pneumonias may have been related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease. At that time, the criteria for testing patients was still restricted to people who had traveled to China, but the guidelines were expanded in late February, leading to the detection of numerous cases.

In the Basque Country, health authorities have not disclosed personal information about the patient who died on Wednesday, other than to say that he had underlying health problems and pneumonia. The number of recorded cases in the northern Spanish region has reached 21, most of them in Álava province. Compounding the problems is the fact that several public health workers have been infected, and around 100 more are under home quarantine, triggering concerns about a potential lack of enough health personnel if the virus continues to spread.

Authorities in Madrid and the southern region of Andalusia have also sent around 200 healthcare workers home in a bid to prevent hospitals from becoming sources of transmission. All of these employees have been exposed to infected individuals.

Hoarding

The move comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday warned about a global shortage of protective gear for health workers and patients, and called for a 40% increase in production. “Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

Some countries, including Germany and France, have already taken steps against hoarding and abuse. Spain for now is not contemplating similar measures, and officials say that there is enough equipment at hospitals. But many health centers have had to place these items under lock and key due to cases of theft.

At Valladolid’s Clínico Hospital, 5,000 face masks disappeared last week. “Many have vanished from Madrid centers,” said Julián Ordóñez, spokesman for health issues at the labor union UGT. “Many of them were being kept outside the doors of patients’ rooms, and relatives took them. We also know that a few workers have taken them home as well.”

Meanwhile, citizen demand for face masks has skyrocketed, with pharmacy sales rising by 20,000% compared with the same week last year. Each day, there is demand for around 130,000 masks but there is only enough supply to cover 10% of that, said a spokesman for the Federation of Pharmaceutical Distributors. “Manufacturers are working around the clock.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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