Anger in Madrid as Spain grapples with Ebola | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.10.2014
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Anger in Madrid as Spain grapples with Ebola

Fear and outrage have gripped Madrid's hospital corridors and spilled out into the streets of the Spanish capital, where two priests died of Ebola last summer. One of their nurses emerged infected.

Seven people were being kept in isolation at a hospital in northern Madrid on Thursday, including Teresa Romero Ramos, a 40-year-old nursing assistant who tested positive for the deadly virus that has killed thousands in West Africa. Her husband, three coworkers, an emergency room doctor who treated her, and her hairdresser were also in quarantine, some with suspected Ebola symptoms, some without, awaiting tests. More than 50 others were under observation, having their temperatures taken twice daily.

Spanish doctors and nurses have been holding daily protests against what they call shoddy safety measures, inadequate quarantine equipment and budget cuts to public health -- all of which, they say, may have left them vulnerable to the deadly virus.

"They need to strengthen safety measures and put more faith in what we are doing, because we did not skip the protocol!" said Esther Quinones, a nurse and union representative who rallied outside her hospital, visibly shaken by the Ebola scare playing out in her profession and across her city.

Safety concerns

But that protocol may have been inadequate, says one of her colleagues.

Hospital staff walk past a police officer outside of

Hospital staff have called for the health minister's resignation

"Ever since April when we first became aware of Ebola, we've been telling our superiors that we need more information and training," said fellow nurse Ana Maria, who declined to give her surname, out of fear of losing her job for criticizing her superiors. "It's a tough situation, and without information to put our minds at ease, our staff is full of fear, indecision and anxiety."

Even regular citizens who live in the same southern Madrid suburb as Romero and her husband have been wearing protective face masks around their neighborhood and to the supermarket, in a sign that panic has set in, even though Ebola is not an airborne virus.

"When I see people wearing those masks, and I hear no public advisories from the government, it makes me really scared," said Veronica Blanco, 25, hailing a taxi on a Madrid street corner. "I'm not taking public transport anymore. I try not to touch anyone in the street, or share bottles or utensils with people at work. You just don't know what could happen."

Spanish schools remain open; public services and business hours are unchanged.

Spain's health minister, Ana Mato, has ignored repeated calls for her resignation. But the hashtag #AnaMatoDimision -- "Ana Mato Resignation" in Spanish -- is trending on Twitter in Spain.

"What we have to do is be vigilant but stay calm," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told parliament, explaining that Mato still has his backing. "Let the professionals do their job. Have confidence in them. They're some of the best in the world."

Messages from quarantine

But those professionals failed to identify the first signs of Ebola in Nurse Romero. Suffering from a fever, she was nevertheless sent home from her local hospital with instructions to take paracetamol, before she was later ordered into quarantine. An EMT's report that the patient verbally indicated that she might have Ebola was lost in paperwork and never followed up on.

Romero was on vacation from work when she came down with a fever; she spent a week in her Madrid neighborhood, before finally being admitted to hospital on Monday.

Animal right activists protest outside an apartment building, the private residence of Spanish nurse Teresa Romero Ramos

A crowd turned out to protest the euthansia of Ramos' dog

Her dog, with whom she spent time during that week, has been euthanized as a precaution -- much to the anger of animal rights groups, which organized demonstrations outside Romero's home.

One of the emergency room doctors who finally identified Ebola in Romero says the protective suit he was required to wear didn't fit properly. He has now voluntarily checked himself into the quarantine hospital, as a precaution.

"The sleeves of the suit were too short for me," Dr. Juan Manuel Parra told a Spanish newspaper by text message from inside his own isolation ward.

Romero is believed to have contracted Ebola from Manuel Garcia Viejo, one of two Spanish missionaries evacuated from their posts in West Africa, and repatriated to Spain. Romero was part of the team that treated him in Madrid, where he died on Sept. 25. Five days later, Romero came down with a fever.

She entered the infected priest's hospital room just twice, doctors explained: one to help change his diaper, and once after his death, to collect some of his clothing. Romero wore a protective suit the entire time.

A hospital door is marked off-limits with striped tape and a contamination sign

Safety measures to prevent the spread of Ebola, as in this photo from a Madrid hospital, have come under fire

Medical investigators have been interviewing her daily, while in isolation, going over her every move in those days during the priest's treatment.

"She told me there's a possibility that she might have inadvertently let part of her protective suit touch her face -- likely the gloves," said one of the investigators, German Ramirez.

Romero is being treated with antibodies from other anonymous Ebola patients. Doctors say she still has a fever, but that they won't announce her condition daily, per the patient's request. On Wednesday, a Spanish newspaper managed to reach her on her mobile phone inside her isolation ward.

"I'm better -- a little better," she said in a weak voice.

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