MADRID (Reuters) – Madrid’s regional government said on Thursday it would put in place emergency measures to help nursing homes struggling with the coronavirus outbreak as deaths among their vulnerable population mounted.

Spain has suffered the second-highest known death toll of any country during the crisis, with total fatalities surpassing 4,000, and nursing homes hit particularly hard.

In the central region comprising the Spanish capital, more than 1,000 people have died of various causes this month in the hundreds of centres that house more than 52,000 elderly, according to official figures.

While those deaths cannot be blamed exclusively on coronavirus because of the lack of tests to detect it, the regional government said it was implementing an emergency plan to help the system cope with “numerous cases of infections and deaths in these centres”.

Firefighters and military staff will now be authorised to transport corpses where necessary, while residents who have escaped infection will be given the option to move to nearby hotels or family homes.

Prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation last week into at least 17 deaths from the coronavirus at the Monte Hermoso nursing facility in Madrid.

Data collected by regional authorities showed 46 of its 130 residents had died so far in March, 16 of them since March 22, according to a document seen by Reuters.

“Normally, in one of these homes, between one and two people die every month,” a source at the regional parliament said.

An auxiliary nurse who answered the telephone at the home on Thursday told Reuters she was not authorised to respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Belen Carreno; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Peter Cooney)