Madrid officials unveil pandemic hospital, opponents claim political stunt

Madrid's regional President Isabel Díaz Ayuso (2R), leader of the Spanish People's Party (PP), Pablo Casado (2L), Madrid's Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida (R) and Madrid's regional Health Minister Enrique Ruiz Escudero (L), visit the new Isabel Zendal hospital during its opening in Madrid, Spain, 1 December 2020. [Chema Moya/EPA/EFE]

A modernistic pandemic hospital unveiled in Madrid has become the latest point of contention in Spain’s feverish political landscape with detractors claiming it is for political gain. EFE and EPA report.

Madrid’s 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 on Tuesday, adding that “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 (PP), and José Luis Martínez Almeida, Madrid’s mayor and fellow PP member, joined the event in support of their colleague.

However, members of the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) and their coalition partners in the national government, Unidas Podemos, appeared to be absent.

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said he was unable to attend due to prior engagements, while the Senate PSOE spokesman, Ander Gil, was a little blunter in his message.

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

Ayuso also noted the absence of national government officials.

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Unnecessary and costly

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

Political tension has thrived during Spain’s COVID-19 crisis and Ayuso has become one of the fiercest critics of socialist 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 centres.

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

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 demanded that Madrid authorities hire fresh staff for the pandemic hospital.

The centre, which is due to host a total of 1,056 beds — 48 of which will be in intensive care units (ICUs) — is set to cost €100 million ($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 minimises the risk of contagion. The hospital was rapidly constructed in around 100 days.

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

In Madrid, tough restrictions such as a nightly curfew and restrictions on social meet-ups remain in place.

[Edited by Daniel Eck]

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