Spanish soldiers helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic have found elderly patients in retirement homes abandoned and, in some cases, dead in their beds, the defence ministry has said.
Spanish prosecutors said an investigation had been launched. The military has been brought in to help disinfect care homes in Spain, one of Europe’s worst hit countries.
Meanwhile, an ice rink in Madrid is to be used as a temporary mortuary for Covid-19 victims, officials said. On Monday Spain recorded its highest daily death toll – 462 – bringing the total to 2,182.
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. “The army, during certain visits, found some older people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds,” she said.
The defence ministry said that staff at some care homes had left after the coronavirus was detected. Health officials have said that in normal circumstances the bodies of deceased residents are put in cold storage until they are collected by the funeral services.
But when the cause of death is suspected to be linked to coronavirus they are left in their beds until they can be retrieved by properly equipped funeral staff. In the capital Madrid, which has seen the highest number of cases and deaths, that could take up to 24 hours, officials said.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa told a news conference that retirement homes were “an absolute priority for the government”. “We will exercise the most intensive monitoring of these centres,” she added.
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