Exhausted ambulance workers in Spain said they fear a resurgence in coronavirus infections could mean another frantic period on the front line.
For the first time in weeks, Dr Monica Rodriguez has found some respite. But even as she enjoyed card games and magic tricks at her ambulance team’s base in Madrid, the emergency doctor is not letting her guard down.
Her team is only catching its breath before the next urgent call comes in, whether coronavirus-related or not.
“The virus is out there and will remain. It’s not going to disappear,” said Dr Rodriguez.
She is among the medical staff who have helped to flatten one of Europe’s sharpest contagion curves in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We fear a rebound,” Dr Rodriguez said as Spain takes its first steps to phase out a strict seven-week confinement after roughly 27,000 coronavirus-linked fatalities. “Unfortunately, people are not taking enough precautions because they are not aware or they don’t have a real vision of what’s going on.”
Drawing from lessons learned when Spain had to repatriate two citizens infected with Ebola in 2014, Dr Rodriguez’s team was specially trained to deal with epidemics. What they did not expect was to put those skills into practice in a pandemic that would stretch to the limit the Spanish capital’s health resources.
In the second half of March, when the full force of Covid-19 hit Spain, the SUMMA 112 service’s ambulances ferried more than 8,000 patients with symptoms to and between hospitals. Daily calls to the emergency hotline sometimes arrived at three times or more the normal level.
The service employs more than 2,000 people, many working part-time at hospitals or health centres. In a country where medical workers have suffered high rates of infection, 210 of them have contracted the virus.
All deployments these days involve extra precautions, with protective equipment and meticulous disinfection before and after.
The doctor said now that pressures are waning, recent experiences are taking an emotional toll on all emergency workers. They have increasing difficulty sleeping, anxiety and “overall sadness”.