Spanish Army troops disinfecting nursing homes have found, to their horror, some residents living in squalor among the infectious bodies of people suspected of dying from the new coronavirus, authorities said today.
Defence Minister Margarita Robles said the elderly residents were "completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead, in their beds."
She said the discovery over the weekend included several nursing homes but did not name them or say how many bodies were found.
A judicial probe into the horrific discovery was opened today as Spain announced a record one-day jump of nearly 6600 new coronavirus infections, bringing the overall total to more than 39,600.
The number of deaths also leaped by a record 514 to almost 2700, second only to Italy and China.
As bodies piled up, Madrid took over a public skating rink as a makeshift morgue after the city facility overflowed.
To date, 1535 people have died in the hard-hit Spanish capital, more than half of the national total. The capital region has over 12,350 infections.
"This is a tough week," Dr. Fernando Simón, head of Spain's health emergency centre, told a daily news briefing.
Relatives of elderly people and retirement homes' workers expressed growing concern about the situation at the centres.
"With everything that is happening with the coronavirus, this was a ticking bomb," said Esther Navarro, whose 97-year-old Alzheimer's-stricken mother lives at the Usera Seniors' Centre in Madrid, where soldiers found some of the bodies.
A worker at the nursing home said at least two bodies had to remain in the home for a day before funeral workers, who are working around the clock, arrived to take them away.
"We are very saddened, because the residents are almost like our own relatives due to the time we spend with them," the worker, José Manuel Martín, told Cadena SER radio.
Domusvi, the private company contracted by the Madrid regional government to run the Usera nursing home, confirmed that two residents died there over the weekend. A company spokeswoman blamed the delay on funeral homes that failed to come quickly to take away the bodies.
Madrid has turned two city hotels into hospitals to help with the overflow of virus patients and plans to convert five others. Madrid's hotel association has offered 40 hotels to help medical workers.
Madrid also set up a field hospital in the Ifema trade fair complex, where the UN climate conference COP25 was held in December.
Elsewhere around the world:
Governor Andrew Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic, saying the infection rate in New York is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.
Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3000 intensive care unit beds statewide. The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.
"We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own," he said during a briefing. "One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We're now looking at a bullet train."
New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds. There were more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths.
The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.
The eastern French border city of Mulhouse was fought over by France and Germany across two centuries, but the horrors of the new coronavirus cluster tearing through this community of 110,000 is inspiring unusual solidarity.
While many countries have shut their borders to stem the march of the pandemic, three German states have opened their hospitals to patients from eastern France. Hospitals in bordering Switzerland have done the same.
The Grand Est region is now the epicentre of the outbreak in France, which has buried the third most virus victims in Europe, after Italy and Spain. The crisis there can be traced largely to a dayslong evangelical church gathering in Mulhouse attended by hundreds of people at the end of February.
In a sign of the devastating toll, the local newspaper in Mulhouse has had to add extra obituary pages as the deaths from the coronavirus increase — as has been done in some areas of Italy.
In Germany, the states of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg have offered spare hospitals beds to treat French patients. The spokesman of Baden-Wuerttemberg state's Health Ministry said the state would "naturally try to help our French neighbours," and authorities have asked all hospitals with free capacity to take in French patients requiring ventilators.
While Germany has many more confirmed virus cases than France, it has a much smaller number of deaths: 123, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, compared to France's 1100.
The Middle East's most populous country, Egypt, as well as Syria, a country ravaged by nine years of war, will impose nightly curfews starting this week in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
The International Monetary Fund meanwhile warned that a shortage of medical supplies could affect the Mideast's poorest nations.There are over 31,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast, the vast majority in the hard-hit nation of Iran.
Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly told a news conference that the 11-hour nationwide curfew from 7 pm until 6 am would go into effect tomorrow, during which various forms of transportation will also come to a halt.
Egypt has 402 confirmed cases and 22 fatalities. Madbouly announced the continued closure of airports, schools and universities until April 12. He said shops will close Fridays and Saturdays, Egypt's weekend. Groceries, bakeries and pharmacies would be excluded from the closure order.
The Government has banned large gatherings, closed all its museums and archaeological sites including the Giza Pyramids and locked down tourist cities in the south and the Red Sea. Religious authorities have closed churches and mosques.
In Syria, where the healthcare system has been decimated by nearly a decade of civil war, the Government said a 12-hour curfew beginning at 6 pm will go into effect. State news agency SANA did not say how long the night-time curfew would continue, but it appeared to be open-ended.
Syria has reported only one case of the coronavirus so far, but strict measures have been taken in government-held areas including halting commercial flights, closing borders with neighbouring countries and shutting down restaurants and public transportation.
Mexican health officials called on all businesses and organisations to suspend work that requires the movement of people.
Deputy health secretary Hugo López-Gatell said at a news conference hosted by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that work that requires people to travel between home and work sites or be in public spaces must stop.
"The moment has arrived where we can make a greater impact with collective strategies," López-Gatell said, now that the virus is being transmitted within the community rather than just imported.
The measure, which in theory could bring much of the country's economic activity to a halt, was included in a list of other measures the Government has already implemented and there was no discussion of how it would be enforced or whether there would be penalties.
Many companies have already implemented plans to have employees working from home, but most businesses remain open, including restaurants and gyms.