Madrid opens part of new $119 million hospital without patients or staff

Authorities in Spain’s capital Madrid on Tuesday held a ceremony to open part of a 1,000-bed emergency hospital dedicated to Covid-19 patients — a building with beds not ready to receive patients and unnecessary now that the virus resurgence and hospitalisations are waning.

Built in 100 days at a cost of 100 million euros ($119 million), twice the original budget, critics said that the hospital is no more than a vanity project, news agency the Associated Press reported (AP).

Criticising the project, health workers’ unions said that the investment should have been used instead to support an existing public health system run down by years of spending cuts.

On Tuesday, around 200 health professionals gathered at the entrance of the Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid as officials entered the state-of-the-art facility.

Only one of four wings of the 80,000-square-meter (nearly 20-acre) hospital – equivalent to around 10 soccer fields – is set to open initially with 240 beds, although the regional government so far has only enlisted as volunteers about one-sixth of the workers needed.

Madrid’s regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, was quoted by AP as saying that the hospital is the first of its kind in Europe and that it will help alleviate pressure in other public hospitals by focusing on Covid-19 patients.

“I’m sorry for the criticism. We are saving lives,” Díaz Ayuso was quoted as saying. He further said that its location, near the Spanish capital’s international airport, will also be an advantage in assuring visitors that the city is safe. “A great public hospital cannot be bad news for anyone.”

The conservative regional leader has been the fiercest critic of how the leftist national government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, has handled the pandemic, constantly objecting to preventative measures and advocating restrictions that try to preserve economic activity.

Although scientists say that heightened caution and the fear factor might have played a major role, the region’s 14-day infection rate has dropped from 500-plus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in October to 236 on Monday, below the national average of 275.

The new facility is inspired by Madrid’s experience with a makeshift hospital set up in an exhibition centre back in the spring when hospitals in the region of 6.6 million were overwhelmed. That move also brought both criticism and praise.

Governments across Europe launched similar projects with different results, AP reported.

In Britain, seven temporary hospitals in convention centres and other venues were named the “Nightingale” hospitals after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale – similar to Madrid’s Isabel Zendal. But they ended up treating only a handful of patients. They were kept on standby, and the Nightingale hospital in Manchester recently began admitting patients again. The government is considering using the others as coronavirus vaccination centres.

In Spain, Díaz Ayuso hopes personnel from other hospitals will come to her new hospital voluntarily, but she hasn’t explained what the already strained centres they come from will do with fewer staff.

Spain has officially registered 1.6 million coronavirus infections and over 45,000 Covid deaths confirmed since the beginning of the year.

(With inputs from AP)

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