Madrid starts using ice rink as morgue for coronavirus victims

The army’s Emergency Military Unit will be in charge of transferring the bodies to the center and guarding them until they are removed for burial or cremation

The Palacio de Hielo ice rink has been turned into a makeshift morgue.
The Palacio de Hielo ice rink has been turned into a makeshift morgue.VICTOR SAINZ

Madrid’s ice rink has been turned into a morgue for coronavirus victims in the Spanish capital. The company that operates the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, offered the premises on Monday and Madrid authorities greenlighted the initiative, said a spokesperson for the regional government.

The space began to receive the first coffins on Monday evening. The caskets were transferred by the army’s Emergency Military Unit (UME), which will also guard the bodies until they are taken by funeral homes for burial or cremation. According to army sources, the unit has created an action protocol with the regional government to organize the logistics of the operation.

The ice rink is located in a shopping center filled with stores, restaurants, a bowling alley, a gym and a movie theater

Madrid City Hall gave the green light after meeting on Monday morning with those who will be running the improvised morgue, according to sources from the regional government. “It is a temporary and extraordinary measure, aimed fundamentally at mitigating the pain of the families of victims and the situation seen in Madrid hospitals,” they added. The news was advanced by the Spanish newspaper El Español.

A report drafted by regional health authorities, seen by EL PAÍS, stated that the Palacio del Hielo has “the necessary cold conditions to preserve the bodies,” which would be placed on “a surface made of polymer materials around two to three centimeters thick” to ensure the body does not come into direct contact with the ice. Coffins would be “duly identified” to prevent confusion. The report added that coffins would “enter and exit via one direct access point.”

“Exceptional situation”

The report concluded that the ice rink could be used as a temporary morgue given the “exceptionality of the current situation,” in reference to the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed the lives of more than 2,100 people as of Monday.

The space must adhere to certain guidelines on mortuary care by conserving the coffins at the right temperature, ensuring bodies are correctly identified and that they are handled according to the Health Ministry’s regulations on Covid-19 cases.

Opened in 2003 on Silvano street, in the Hortaleza district, the Palacio de Hielo is located in a shopping center filled with stores, restaurants, a bowling alley, a gym and a movie theater. The ice rink is also near the Ifema convention center, which has just been converted into Spain’s largest field hospital.

On Monday, Madrid’s municipal funerary services SFM said that they will no longer collect victims of Covid-19 due to a lack of protective gear for their own workers, said Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida in a letter sent to Health Minister Salvador Illa to which EL PAÍS has had access. The letter reminded the minister that “more than 150 people are dying every day” in Madrid, and requested urgent delivery of face masks and other protective gear for SFM’s employees.

Last week, the Municipal Funeral Service added more staff to its crematory service, so that the company’s four cremation ovens (two located in the La Almudena cemetery and two in the Carabanchel cemetery) could work 24 hours a day. Sources from the company indicated that the funeral home will not stop its other activities and would continue to cremate and bury coronavirus victims if they are transferred in sealed coffins.

Embalming banned

The Madrid regional government banned on Monday all forms of thanatopraxy (body preservation techniques) for at least a month “independently of the cause of death.” The regulation covers the aesthetic preparation of the dead, embalming and temporary conservation.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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