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COVID-19

Madrid converts city ice rink into morgue to cope with coronavirus dead

An ice rink inside a Madrid shopping mall was on Monday turned into a temporary morgue on Monday to deal with a surge in deaths in the Spanish capital due to the coronavirus, local officials said.

Madrid converts city ice rink into morgue to cope with coronavirus dead
The ice rink will serve as a morgue during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: AFP

The ice rink at the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, shopping centre — which according to its web page has the capacity for 1,800 skaters —  will be used “to store bodies”, a spokeswoman for Madrid city hall told AFP.

The coronavirus death toll in Spain, one of the worst-hit countries in the world, surged to 2,182 on Monday after 462 people died within 24 hours. The Madrid region accounts from over half of the deaths so far.


Madrid's city ice rink will serve as a morgue during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: AFP

Earlier on Monday Madrid city hall said the city's 14 public cemeteries would cease to accept more bodies because staff there did not have adequate protective gear.

“Preparations have begun so that the installations ceded by the Ice Palace can receive bodies, and facilitate the work of funeral services in the face of this exceptional situation,” the regional government of Madrid said in a statement.   

“This improvised morgue will start being used “in the coming hours,” it added.


A woman wearing a face mask and gloves touches a niche during the burial of a man who died of the new coronavirus at the South Municipal cemetery in Madrid. Photo: AFP

“This is a temporary and exceptional measure which aims to mitigate the pain of the family members of the victims and the situation hospitals in Madrid are facing.”   

The shopping mall is located in Madrid's northern Hortaleza neighbourhood, not far from the Ifema congress centre which has been converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients that will have a total of 5,500 beds.


A photo released of beds prepared at Madrid's IFEMA convention centre. Photo: @MadridSalud

Under an agreement reached by the regional government of Madrid and the defence ministry on Friday, soldiers have started to help transport the remains of people who died from the virus to morgues.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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