‘Here We Go Again’: A Second Virus Wave Grips Spain

‘Here We Go Again’: A Second Virus Wave Grips Spain

MÁLAGA, Spain — At midday on Sunday, there were 31 patients inside the main coronavirus treatment center in Málaga, the city with the fastest-rising infection rate in southern Spain. At 12.15 p.m., the 32nd arrived in an ambulance. Half an hour later came number 33.

The garbage can by the door overflowed with masks and blue surgical gloves. Relatives hovered in silence outside — one of them in tears, another feeling a pang of déjà-vu.

“My brother-in-law had the virus in the spring,” said Julia Bautista, a 58-year-old retired office administrator waiting for news on Sunday of her 91-year-old father.

“Here we go again,” she added.

If Italy was the harbinger of the first wave of Europe’s coronavirus pandemic in February, Spain is the portent of its second.

The debate has also become the latest proxy for a bitter conflict over the Spanish Constitution that has been brewing for more than four decades. For federalists and Catalan separatists, for example, the debacle highlights how power was never properly devolved after the death in 1975 of the dictator Francisco Franco. For Spanish nationalists, it instead shows how the process of decentralization has already gone too far.

“There is a kind of war going on to show what kind of political system is better,” said Nacho Calle, the editor of Maldita, a prominent fact-checking service. The decentralized approach has led to a piecemeal system of tracking and tracing potential coronavirus victims. Some regions employ several thousand trackers to trace people who might have come into contact with infected people, while other regions hired only a few dozen — slowing the rate at which potential patients are told to enter quarantine.

And even in regions with large numbers of trackers, like Andalusia, health workers on the ground report that the process is still too slow and understaffed in certain locations.

Francisca Morente, a nurse in a clinic west of Málaga, was one of hundreds of local nurses seconded this summer to work as a tracker because of staff shortages at her district’s official tracing unit.

But even now, Ms. Morente is one of just five trackers working at her clinic — not enough to make the hundreds of daily calls that a proper tracing service requires. And even once she manages to track down potential coronavirus patients, those patients still currently need to wait a week until their tests are processed, because of bottlenecks at local laboratories.

“We need more trackers and more resources,” she said. “We need a designated tracker unit in every clinic, instead of this temporary system that we have at the moment.”

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