Madrid officials unveil pandemic hospital, opponents claim political stunt

By Jake Threadgould

Madrid, Dec 1 (efe-epa).- A modernistic pandemic hospital unveiled in Madrid on Tuesday has become the latest point of contention in Spain’s feverish political landscape with detractors claiming it is for political gain.

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso has touted the Enfermera Isabel Zendal hospital, designed to ease the Covid-19 burden on other hospitals in the city, as a flagship achievement of her conservative administration.

“Today is a day of hope and excitement,” she said at the inauguration. “Madrid and Spain can count on a new, world-class center without precedent in Spain and Europe.”

Pablo Casado, the national leader of the Popular Party, and José Luis Martínez Almeida, Madrid’s mayor and fellow PP member, joined the event in support of their colleague.

Conspicuous by their absence, however, was any member of the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) and their coalition partners in the national government, Unidas Podemos.

Salvador Illa, the health minister, said he was unable to attend due to prior engagements.

Ander Gil, the PSOE spokesman in the Senate, was a little blunter in his message.

“Fewer inaugurations and campaign acts paid by public money and more responsibility in carrying out your duties,” he said, describing the hospital as an act of “PP propaganda.”

Ayuso noted the absence of national government officials.

“We regret the absences, but the achievement is here to see,” she said. “A new public hospital cannot be bad news, unless political sectarianism sees it that way.”

Political tension has thrived in Spain’s Covid-19 crisis and Ayuso has become one of the fiercest critics of Prime Minister Sánchez’s handling of the pandemic.

Critics of the new hospital say it is unnecessary, costly and could end up draining staff from other medical centers.

At the moment, 111 healthcare workers have volunteered for transfer to the new hospital with the rest set to be selected from the 11,500 medical staff hired on emergency contracts to deal with Covid-19 in Madrid, one of the worst-hit cities in Europe.

Around 670 staff are needed to get the first of the three ward buildings and the ICU up and running.

Medical unions who staged a protest at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday demanded that Madrid authorities hire fresh staff for the pandemic hospital.

The center, which is due to host a total of 1,056 beds — 48 of which will be ICU — is set to cost 100 million euros ($119.9 million), twice the initial budget proposal.

The first patients are due in the coming days, with the two remaining buildings coming into action once staffing requirements have been met.

Located in the Valdebebas area in the north of Madrid, the Enfermera Isabel Zendal boasts biometric identification systems and an interior floor plan that minimizes the risk of contagion. It was rapidly constructed in around 100 days.

Spain has recorded a total of 1.6 million Covid-19 cases and 45,000 deaths. Officials believe the real number of infections could be at least three times higher.

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