The Spanish army, that has been drafted in to help fight the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, found elderly retirement home residents dead and abandoned, according to the country’s defence ministry. Spanish prosecutors said an investigation had been launched.
The discovery came after the military had been brought in to help disinfect care homes across Spain.
It has soon become one of Europe’s worst hit countries, alongside Italy.
Spain has so far recorded 35,1136 cases, with 2,311 deaths.
Monday saw the country experience its single-most highest surge in death – 462.
Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles told the private TV channel Telecinco that the government was “going to be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way older people are treated” in retirement homes.
She added: “The army, during certain visits, found some older people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds.”
The defence ministry said that staff at some care homes had left residents after the coronavirus was detected.
Health officials said in normal circumstances that the bodies of the deceased residents are put in cold storage until they are collected by funeral services.
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But, when the death is suspected to be a result of coronavirus, they are left in their beds until they can be retrieved by funeral staff in the appropriate manner.
Officials said that in Madrid, the capital city, which has seen the highest number of cases and deaths, this process could take up to 24 hours.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa told a news conference that retirement homes were “an absolute priority for the government”.
She said: “We will exercise the most intensive monitoring of these centres.”
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As the crisis in Madrid worsened, the city’s municipal funeral home said it would stop the collection of COVID-19 victims from Tuesday because a lack of protective equipment.
The city is to use the Palacio de Hielo – a major ice rink in the city – as a temporary mortuary where bodies will be stored until funeral homes can collect them, according to government officials.
Not far away from the ice rink stands a makeshift field hospital that has specially been set up for coronavirus patients.
Meanwhile, Italy now has the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the world.
Italian authorities said on Monday that 602 people with COVID-19 had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 6,077.
The daily increase was the smallest since Thursday – raising hopes that the draconian measures implemented by the government were beginning to have an effect.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the coronavirus disease pandemic is “accelerating”, with more than 300,000 cases now confirmed.
It took just 67 days for the first reported COVID-19 cases to reach 100,000.
Despite the downwards spiral, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was optimistic that the virus’ trajectory could still be changed.
He urged countries to adopt regions testing and contact-tracing strategies.
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