As It Happens

Please don't send people back to work yet, ER doctor urges Spanish government

Just because things are starting to look up in Spain, doesn’t mean it’s time to send people back to work, says Dr. Ana Giménez.

Spain is easing its COVID-19 lockdown, reopening construction and manufacturing businesses

Health workers wearing protective face masks react during a tribute for their co-worker, Esteban, a nurse who died of COVID-19, outside the Severo Ochoa Hospital in Leganes, Spain, on Monday. (Susana Vera/Reuters)


Just because things are starting to look up in Spain, doesn't mean it's time to send people back to work, says Dr. Ana Giménez.

Starting Tuesday, some Spanish businesses, including construction and manufacturing, were allowed to resume. Shops, bars and public spaces are to stay closed until at least April 26.

Spain remains one of the world's hardest-hit countries when it comes to COVID-19, with 18,056 deaths as of Tuesday. The overnight death toll rose to 567 on Tuesday from 517 a day earlier.

But health officials there say the curve is flattening. On Tuesday, the country reported its lowest increase in new cases since March 18.

Giménez is an emergency room doctor at Leonor Hospital in Madrid. She told As It Happens in late March that hospitals in her country were overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases and didn't have enough masks, gowns or even beds.

She says that's no longer the case — but it could be again if Spain moves too quickly to ease its lockdown. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Spain.

What went through your mind when you heard that many non-essential workers would be headed back to their jobs and job sites across Spain?

Most of my colleagues and I are a little bit scared about this because we don't know the situation of the epidemic here in Spain because the tests are not coming in.

They have decided to reopen the jobs without the most important things that were supposed to be done … [like] doing the tests and being absolutely sure that all the workers have good protection.

Workers with protective masks work at construction site in Barcelona on Tuesday. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

The central government of Spain, though, says ... the death rate is slowing. It's a small proportional daily increase of deaths from yesterday, Monday until Tuesday. Does that not give you confidence that the epidemic is slowing down?

Yes, it's slowing down. And because of the reopening of the jobs, maybe a new wave will come in. Maybe, but maybe not. So who knows? There is no planning about things. The government is just acting because they think that they have to ... avoid the absolute crash of the economy. But the protective measures are not done.

As you said when we spoke to you about three weeks ago, people in your hospital were dying quickly. The number of cases in Madrid was rising. And at that time, you told us that there weren't enough gowns. There weren't enough masks. There weren't even enough beds. Is that still the situation at your hospital?

Absolutely not. The situation is much, much, much better. Now we have enough space, enough beds. There is still a problem with the critical services. They are still with a lot of patients.

Now, if you come to my hospital, you will see a lot of people with masks, but sitting on chairs, not on the floor. So there [are] much, much [fewer] patients.

And so given what you've just said, that things are improving, what concerns do you have about the government sending hundreds of thousands of nonessential workers back to their jobs?

I think that they are thinking about the economy, not about the epidemic.

If you want to reopen, you need protective measures, don't you? Where are they? So why now and why not the week before, or the next week? Because nothing [has] changed. The only things that have changed is that the hospitals are not as crowded as two weeks ago.

Do you believe it is too early ... to start easing back the measures that were put in place?

Yes, because we don't have measures. The only measure that has been done was to close everything and make the people stay at home. That is the only measure they have done and done [well].

So why do they reopen now if we don't have protective measures? Why? ... What are they thinking? Nobody knows.

Ana Gimenez is an emergency room doctor in Madrid. (Submitted by Ana Gimenez)

Well, why do you believe that your government is easing these restrictions? What do you think accounts for that decision?

I don't know. I think that they know that for the economy, it's a bad idea to remain without doing nothing.

They spend the whole day on TV talking to the people, telling [them] that they are doing a lot of things, but the only thing they are doing is to fight with their opposition political parties.

But we at the hospitals. We really don't feel the measures. …  It's like they are quiet and they hope that things go better just because of the time passed. 

Remember that this week in Italy, again, they have had more people dying ... So this is not going to stop soon.

The government, both governments here in Madrid and the state ... they must do more things. They must protect their workers. They must screen the people. They must do something, please.

They're thinking about [the] next election. They are not thinking about the health of the people.- Dr. Ana Giménez, Leonor Hospital, Spain 

And so what would that look like? 

I need tests. I need screening. I need to know how many people in a factory have had the virus or not. 

Really, I'm not an epidemiologist. I'm not. But the common sense makes me feel that things are not well done.

Given that you think it is too early to lift some of the measures that Spain has, and given that you were on the front lines, you are a health-care worker that has been battling this coronavirus on the front lines, what message is your government sending to you?

I think they are not sending me any messages. No, no, not at all. They are not thinking about us. They are thinking about themselves.

They know that we are going to work until we are exhausted and more.

Every single phrase they say, they're thinking about [the] next election. They are not thinking about the health of the people.

All the health workers feel almost alone. But we always work hard ... Most of the things that are well done are because of the effort of the workers, but not because of the political help. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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