Spain opens 200 criminal investigations into care home pandemic flaws

Spain’s public prosecutor is investigating more than 200 cases of potential criminal mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic in nursing and old people’s homes, reported Reuters.

Spain opens 200 criminal investigations into care home pandemic flaws
Photo: Maud WATINE / AFP

During the first wave of the pandemic in Spain last year, the virus spread uncontrollably throughout care home facilities.

The prosecutor’s office said nearly half of its investigations related to homicide through a neglect of duty of care. It is also looking into 21 cases of deficiencies in medical treatment.

Angel Juarez, whose 95-year old mother Leonor died from Covid-19 at a Barcelona care home, sued the regional health department for its negligence and mismanagement of care homes.

“It’s not about political beliefs, everything failed. It is a matter of justice, they died an undignified death,” he told Reuters.

“We want to shine a light on the negligence and clarify who was responsible.”

Around 43,000 care home residents died of COVID-19, or were suspected of having the virus, during the first wave in March to May 2020, according to official data by the Spanish Health Ministry.

During that time, staff reported deficiencies of basic protective equipment. Army units sent to disinfect care homes also discovered unattended dead bodies at several facilities.

Despite the vaccine rollout, with Spain reporting record infection numbers almost daily, health authorities warned that risks still remained throughout care homes.

Pre-existing flaws, including governance, funding, working conditions, a lack of coordination with primary health care, and a lack of isolation spaces, are still widespread, according to the recent health report.

Ignacio Fernandez Cid, president of the FED care-home association welcomed the investigations but felt the sector was being unfairly reprimanded for wider failings.

“Whoever has done wrong must pay for what they’ve done, whether that’s health officials or politicians or care home operators,” he said.

Prosecutors postponed other cases, because most of the time they were passed to courts, rather than because investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Spain has around 5,500 nursing homes, home to approximately 400,000 people, according to the European Ageing Network.

READ ALSO: Spain slammed over care of elderly during coronavirus crisis

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Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Spanish health experts have advised the government that the use of masks should no longer be obligatory on public transport, but no concrete date has yet been set.

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health have said that masks should no longer be mandatory on public transport, but with the caveat that the government should first wait and observe the epidemiological situation in China, which has experienced a surge in case numbers since it abandoned its strict ‘Zero Covid’ strategy at the end of 2022, following widespread civil unrest.

The use of masks on public transport has now been the norm in Spain for almost three years, since the start of the pandemic. 

Speaking to Ser Canarias, Darias said: “We are getting closer and closer [to the end of having to wear a mask], but we will have to see how things evolve in order to make that decision; obviously the epidemiological situation is getting better and better, but we have to see how the issue of China evolves”. 

Reports in the Spanish press suggest some kind of agreement was made during a meeting between the government and the experts in December that masks would no longer be compulsory after assessing the situation in China, however, there is still no fixed date.

Back in October 2022, Spain’s ‘Emergency Unit’ suggested that mask rules would not be reviewed until March 2023 at the earliest, but more recently it said that it does not seem necessary to wait for March to remove the mask rule. 

According to recent Ministry of Health figures, just 2.79 percent of hospital beds in Spain are taken up by Covid-19 patients.

READ ALSO: Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

The use of masks indoors in Spain ceased to be mandatory on April 20th, 2022, after almost two years, however, they have remained mandatory in hospitals, pharmacies and, crucially, also on buses, metro, trains, planes and taxis.

While the mask rules have been strictly enforced in some places in Spain such as Seville and Valencia, in other cities such as Barcelona, many people refuse to wear them, despite the regulations still officially being in place. 

READ ALSO: Spain now requires Covid certificates for arrivals from China

In China, figures suggest that almost 60,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in a single month amid the spike in cases following the end of the country’s draconian restrictions. In response, Spain reintroduced health control checks for travellers arriving from China. 

It seems that Darias and the Spanish government are waiting to see how the situation plays out in China first, but all the indications and expert advice seems to suggest that masks will no longer be mandatory in public transport sometime very soon.