By Belén Carreño and Jose Elías Rodríguez
MADRID (Reuters) – The number of confirmed coronavirus infections jumped in the Madrid region overnight, testing the limits of the healthcare system, officials said on Wednesday, after a senior doctor warned intensive care units could be running out of beds.
Health authorities said known cases in the capital region had risen to 1,024 from 782 on Tuesday – about half of the nationwide total in Spain, one of the highest levels in Europe behind Italy. Spanish authorities have reported 47 deaths, 31 of them in Madrid.
“The mortality rate in Madrid is higher because there are several outbreaks associated with retirement homes,” Fernando Simon, Spain’s health emergency chief, told a news conference.
“The healthcare services, although they are responding, are doing so under very significant stress, something that we have to limit for the rest of the territory,” Simon said, and this was the main objective of a batch of newly announced measures.
It comes as Madrid’s regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso said on Wednesday evening that according to health specialists there would be a “sharp increase” in infections in Madrid this weekend and the worst of spreading of the virus would take place over the next three weeks.
Spain, which at first took few steps against the outbreak, changed tack on Monday after infections soared, declaring a ban on flights from Italy, closing some schools and cautioning against domestic and foreign travel.
On Wednesday evening the Ministry of Culture announced the closure of all state-run museums in Madrid, including the Prado and Reina Sofia, “until further notice”.
Jose Ramon Arribas, a doctor appointed by the Madrid region as a spokesman on the coronavirus crisis, tweeted on Tuesday that local hospitals grappling with coronavirus cases were running out of protective gear and could soon run out of intensive care beds. “Response to COVID-19 (coronavirus) must be a national priority. Please RT (re-tweet),” Arribas tweeted.
Simon said some areas were nearing limits on medical equipment needed to deal with the crisis, but added that they would receive fresh supplies as soon as Wednesday.
Public health authorities were also looking into strengthening coordination with private health care providers.
Madrid hospitals have received 81% of the patients admitted to intensive care because of coronavirus across the country, Simon said. The infections in Madrid were more serious than in other regions where those infected tend to be younger and to have caught it from people who traveled abroad.
Madrid authorities said on Wednesday an additional 516 workers had been hired to help deal with the epidemic, including people answering an information hotline.
Schools throughout the Madrid region were closed and events of more than 1,000 people banned there and in the affluent northern region of Catalonia.
Madrid’s museums also adapted to the crisis with the famed Prado saying it had reduced the number of visitors allowed into its most popular rooms and a spokeswoman at the Reine Sofia said the museum had banned group visits.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Tuesday Spain would do “whatever is necessary” to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
(Additional reporting by Inti Landauro and Jessica Jones; Writing by Belén Carreño and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Diane Craft)