CORONAVIRUS

Spain enlists medical students to shore up overburdened healthcare system

Despite the situation, there are still around 100,000 tourists at hotels on the Canary and Balearic Islands

The army's emergency unit UME disinfecting Granada station on Thursday.
The army's emergency unit UME disinfecting Granada station on Thursday. / Europa Press

The rapid rise of coronavirus cases in Spain is forcing health authorities to resort to medicine students and retired physicians to shore up an overburdened healthcare system that is near collapse.

On a day when the number of cases grew 25% in 24 hours to reach 17,147, with 939 patients in intensive care and 767 deaths, Health Minister Salvador Illa announced the hiring of 30,000 health professionals, a figure that the ministry later raised to 50,000. The newly hired healthcare workers include doctors and nurses but also residents undergoing postgraduate training, recently retired physicians and last-year medical students.

The government has announced a €210 million transfer to regional governments to help them fight the coronavirus. Deputy Premier Pablo Iglesias, of the leftist Unidas Podemos group, said that it was important to “learn from the mistakes of 2008 so that the most vulnerable among us are not left without protection,” alluding to the economic crisis that hit Spain when the property bubble burst.

Tourists in the islands

Ninety countries are now banning Spaniards from entering their territory or have suspended their air and/or maritime links with Spain, according to the latest figures provided by the Foreign Ministry and reported by Europa Press. Another 32 countries are quarantining travelers coming from Spain.

Despite the situation, there are still around 100,000 tourists staying at hotels in the Canary and Balearic Islands. The regional premier of the Canaries, Angel Víctor Torres, has asked the Health Ministry to order the closure of hotels and speed up the repatriation of foreign nationals.

The Spanish army, which has already been deployed in parts of the country to help contain the pandemic, will extend its operations to Catalonia. The Emergency Military Unit (UME) has been tasked with disinfecting the port of Barcelona and El Prat airport, said General Miguel Ángel Villarroya, Chief of the Defense Staff, who asked citizens “for discipline and a spirit of sacrifice.”

The army is also considering putting up a field hospital at the Araca base in the Basque city of Vitoria, one of the early hubs of the Covid-19 epidemic in Spain.

The epicenter

In Madrid, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, the municipal funerary services have extended cremation hours to 24 hours a day and increased the staff due to the sharp increase in bodies. A spokesperson said that for now they are coping with the increased volume of cremations, but that they cannot rule out “that a time may come when waiting times are longer,” the news agency EFE reported.

Madrid’s deputy mayor, Begoña Villacís, said that tenants living in municipal subsidized housing will not be paying rent starting in April, and that home evictions are being placed on hold. “We have put a freeze on them until June 30,” said a spokesman for EMVS, the municipal housing authority.

In Huércal-Overa, in Almería province, a woman with coronavirus gave birth to a baby who is “in good health,” according to doctors at La Inmaculada Hospital.

English version by Susana Urra.