The virus has overwhelmed the country’s health system, with hotels being converted into hospitals and the Palacio de Hielo mall in Madrid, home to an Olympic-sized ice rink, being converted into a morgue.
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Security forces guarded the complex on the northeastern outskirts of the city on Tuesday as funeral vans arrived and entered the building’s underground car park.
Authorities decided to use the 1,800sqm centre after the city’s municipal funeral service said it could take no more bodies until it was restocked with protective equipment and material.
The military disinfected hundreds of nursing homes since Monday, officials said.
The state prosecutor opened an investigation after the defence minister, Margarita Robles, said the army had found unattended bodies at nursing homes. She did not say what had caused their deaths.
In the southern region of Andalusia, the mayor of a small town pleaded for help after reporting 38 of 42 residents at the local nursing home had tested positive for the virus, along with 60 per cent of staff.
The ice rink at Madrid’s Palacio de Hielo will be used as a morgue due to local funeral homes being over capacity (Getty Images)
“The virus doesn’t kill people … what’s killing people is the system,” Rafael Aguilera, mayor of Alcala del Valle, told a news conference.
“Our seniors need a permanent solution now. We need oxygen, ambulances and hospitals,” he said in a video posted on the town’s Facebook page. “A person died in our arms because we couldn’t get hold of oxygen.”
While Madrid long accounted for around half of Spain’s coronavirus cases, new data published on Tuesday showed it now had just under a third of the total, in a sign that the epidemic is spreading throughout the country.
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More than 428,000 people have been infected by the virus worldwide and more than 19,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Overall, more than 109,000 have recovered.
Additional reporting by agencies