efe-epaBy Jake Threadgould and Julia R. Arévalo Madrid

Spanish health authorities on Tuesday acknowledged that insufficient access to protective gear could have played a role in the high number of health workers who have contracted Covid-19, which jumped from 3,910 to 5,400 in the last 24 hours.

The new figures released by the Ministry of Health showed that health workers made up 13.6 percent of the 39,673 cases detected so far in the outbreak, the second-worst in Europe after Italy.

The head of Spain’s public health emergency department Fernando Simón said that the high number of cases in the health sector could in part be attributed to hospital-acquired infections but that setbacks in accessing personal protective equipment on certain occasions could not be denied, although it had generally been sufficient.

“This is to do with market access,” he said, adding that global production of the equipment, which includes masks, aprons, gloves and protective glass, among other items, had been low for some time.

While the main global provider of these products is China - the country where the Covid-19 outbreak originated -, Spain’s government is asking domestic industries to change their lines of production to help the hospitals to be able to cope with the emergency.

Authorities on Tuesday said that an order of more than 600,000 rapid-testing kits would first be used to diagnose suspected cases among health workers, followed by those in older people’s care homes. The first round of diagnoses began Monday in Madrid.

Addressing a press conference following a cabinet meeting, government spokeswoman, María Jesús Montero, said the whole country thanked the country’s medical staff for their “titanic” effort and for their “tenderness, patience and dignity” caring for the sick at a time when family visits are prohibited.

A recent citizen’s initiative as a way to ease the isolation of hospitalized patients saw people send anonymous cards to those receiving treatment, which were read out by the staff on the ward.

There are roughly 330,000 health workers across the country and those numbers were recently buffered by another 50,000, including the recently retired and those who had almost finished their degrees, as part of emergency efforts to prevent the system from being overwhelmed.

Efe spoke to a worker from the Gregorio Marañón hospital, one of the largest in Spain.

“It’s like we’ve been left unprotected, without material, leaving the family and children unattended, it's horrendous,” the woman, who declined to give her name, said as she waited in line at a pharmacy.

Becoming visibly emotional, said her hospital was “completely full” of Covid-19 cases.

The state medical workers union (CESM) has filed a complaint at the Supreme Court demanding that the health ministry make more protective gear, such as FPP2 and FPP3 masks and large waste containers, available to them.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in Spain jumped by 514 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 2,696, meaning Covid-19 reached an average fatality rate of 6.6 percent.

Simón said that there are around 33,000 active cases in Spain, while 2,636 were in intensive care units across the country.

A total of 3,794 people have recovered from Covid-19, an increase of 439 in the last 24 hours.

The capital region of Madrid is the worst-hit in the country and accounts for 12,352 confirmed Covid-19 cases, Catalonia follows in second with over 7,800.

The country’s health minister, Salvador Illa, said he would send resources from other regions to Madrid and called on less-affected ones to show solidarity with the capital.

Some 1,535 people have died from Covid-19 in Madrid alone, and another 1,050 remain in ICU out of a total of 10,443 people hospitalized.

The figures means the capital region has a fatality rate of 12.4 percent, almost double the national average.

Military units have started moving bodies to a makeshift morgue erected at Madrid’s ice rink, the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, after regular storage facilities in the city were overwhelmed with bodies.

The effects of the Covid-19 crisis in Spain have trickled to all corners of society and the government has approved a series of economic measures. On Tuesday, it unveiled a 20 billion-euro credit line to help medium and small businesses weather the crisis.

However, many salaried workers have already found themselves without a job.

"We cannot work, and that is affecting us because the money I used to have I had to spend on food, and now I don’t have any. I have 20 euros,” one man, who also declined to give his name, told Efe. “What do I do next week? How do I eat?”

Meanwhile, Carlos, a doorman at an apartment block, is continuing to work despite a chronic heart illness given that a number of older residents need assistance and that he also needs his minimum wage to support his family.

“I have my gloves, my mask. I’m protecting myself,” he told Efe stoically. EFE-EPA