Healthcare workers in Madrid have gone to extreme lengths – some walking for hours – to relieve their exhausted colleagues as Spain grapples with the double whammy of a deadly storm and the coronavirus pandemic.
Storm Filomena hit Spain on Friday, blanketing large parts of the country in snow and bringing Madrid to a standstill as the city saw its heaviest snowfall in 50 years. Across the country the storm claimed at least four lives, affected around 20,000km of roads and left thousands trapped in their cars for as many as 12 hours without food and water.
In Madrid’s hospitals, already stretched by a coronavirus case load that ranks among the highest in the country, weary staff scrambled to cope. Healthcare workers doubled and tripled their shifts to cover for colleagues who were unable to make it in, while one hospital turned its gym into an impromptu dormitory for workers who couldn’t get home.
With roads blocked to cars and commuter trains cancelled, nursing assistant Raúl Alcojor walked 14km to make it to his shift at a hospital on the outskirts of the city. “Morally I couldn’t stay at home,” he said, citing colleagues that had been working for more than 24 hours.
The trip took him two hours and 28 minutes, complicated by the many fallen trees and snow that at times was 40cm deep. “I told myself, ‘go for it,’” Alcojor told broadcaster Cadena Ser. “If I get there, I’m there. If I don’t make it, I’ll turn around.”
Others had the same idea. One nurse shared her story as she made the 20km journey to her hospital on foot while a video posted on social media showed two nurses walking 22km to reach Madrid’s 12 de Octubre hospital.
Spain’s healthcare workers have for months relentlessly battled a coronavirus epidemic that ranks among the worst in Europe, with tens of thousands of them becoming infected along the way. Across Spain the virus has killed more than 50,000 people while the cumulative number of confirmed cases recently passed the 2m mark.
On Sunday the central government was working to organise police-escorted convoys to carry the weekly shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine as well as food supplies to cut-off areas. The army had also been brought in to help with healthcare, ferrying 66 dialysis patients to various hospitals.
Officials warned that the worst could be yet to come. “When the storm abates, we’ll be facing an intense cold front, which will bring very low temperatures that will mean we’ll need to deal with ice,” José Luis Ábalos, Spain’s transport minister, told reporters on Saturday. “We’ll be getting into a situation that may be more dangerous than the one we’re in right now.”
The storm was blamed for the death of four people across the country; a man and woman whose car was swept away by a flooded river near the town of Fuengirola, a 54-year-man in Madrid who was found buried in snow and a homeless man who died of hypothermia in the northern city of Zaragoza.