Spanish doctor unwelcome in own neighborhood amid pandemic

Spanish doctor unwelcome in own neighborhood amid pandemic

In Spain, every evening at 8 p.m. (1800GMT), neighbors come together at their windows and balconies to applaud medical professionals, the country’s frontline workers in the battle against coronavirus, but despite the show of solidarity, some healthcare workers exposed to the virus have faced blatant discrimination in their communities.

“Hello neighbor, we know about all the good work you do in the hospital and we appreciate it, but you should also think about your neighbors. Here, there are children and senior citizens.

“There are other places you can stay… Please think about it,” read an anonymous note taped to a young doctor’s door in an apartment block in Cuidad Real, Spain, urging him to move to a hotel made available to medical staff.

This is how Jesus Monllor, 28, was greeted after working a 12-hour shift in the emergency ward in a local hospital.

“It’s obvious that no health professional would expect a message like this. I don’t think anyone deserves it. We are breaking our backs, with very few resources, risking our health so that everyone who comes through the hospital doors will get better,” Monllor said on Twitter, adding that he takes every precaution to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

Pilar Allue, the director of Spain’s National Police, said on Tuesday that police can persecute people for posting “reprehensible” messages like this.

“Our professionals continue going after criminals, including those who commit hate crimes, which is what something like this could be considered,” she said at a press conference, responding to a question about these kinds of messages.

On top of working grueling shifts in terrible conditions, health professionals have to deal with the added worry of not infecting others. The Spanish government recommends all health workers shower and disinfect their objects thoroughly as soon as they get home.

Spain has the highest proportion of infected medical staff in the world. Of the 172,541 people confirmed to have the virus in Spain, 26,672 are healthcare workers, according to data released by the Spanish government on Tuesday.

With more than 18,000 official deaths among a population of 47 million, Spain also has the world’s highest per capita death rate from COVID-19. So far, 23 doctors have died.

Hotels across Spain have been opened to give healthcare professionals the option to live outside their homes during the crisis to eliminate the risk of infecting their families or roommates. For some, it involves making the difficult decision to fully separate from family members like young children.

In any case, unions for medical workers say that it is an individual choice and health staff should not be forced from their homes.

Speaking to Spanish news outlet Vozpopuli, the nursing union SATSE said it understands why community members would be worried but says the solution is not harassing their neighbors.

“Health professionals are extremely concerned about not infecting people around them, that’s why we’ve been saying from day one that all workers must have the necessary protective equipment,” said the union.

Monllor, who lives alone, is not the only essential worker to have faced discrimination during the COVID-19 crisis. In India, a video showed healthcare workers being pelted with stones. The Philippines also saw violent attacks, and Manila passed a law outlawing discrimination against healthcare professionals.

In Mexico, Conapred, an association to prevent discrimination, said it has seen a surge of complaints from healthcare professionals being denied services and facing physical and verbal attacks.

In Spain, a similar note was tacked up telling a cashier in a supermarket to find another place to live.

Yet, even Monllor believes the note he received is a glaring exception to the solidarity he has felt since the beginning of the crisis.

“This is a little black spot within Spanish society. This comment stands out because it is so strange,” he wrote on Twitter.

After the note was discovered last week, there was an outpouring of solidarity. A petition on change.org to support the doctor has received nearly 9,000 signatures. The town’s mayor even visited Monllor in his hospital with a letter asking for forgiveness in “the name of the entire community.”

Even within his apartment bloc, another neighbor taped up another anonymous note, this time saying “a hero lives here.”

After origination in Wuhan, China last December, the virus has spread to at least 185 countries and regions across the world, with Europe and the U.S. being the worst-hit regions.

Spain is one of the worst affected countries in the world by COVID-19, registering more than 18,200 deaths and over 174,000 cases.

The virus has infected more than 1.98 million people worldwide and killed over 126,700 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Thanks largely to the work of health professionals around the world, over 493,600 patients have recovered so far.—Alyssa McMurtry / Anadolu Agency

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