Madrid (AFP) – The Spanish capital, Madrid, was still trying to stand on its feet again on Monday after 50 years of record snowfall that paralyzed large parts of central Spain and hampered delivery of coronavirus vaccines.
The blizzard threw more than 50 cm (20 in) of snow in some areas, and the cold front was turning piles of fluffy white into sheets of ice and scaly drifts. At least 700 roads remain unclear enough, half of which are not suitable for driving without restrictions.
Temperatures were expected to drop to minus 11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) in a wide area of the country later on Monday, according to the National Weather Agency AEMET, prompting authorities to urge people to be careful.
“We have some very complicated days before the cold wave subsides,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska told a televised news conference. “It is necessary to postpone any avoidable movement in order to preserve safety and not interrupt the road network.”
A new batch of 350,000 doses of the Pfizer-Bio Antic Coronavirus vaccine arrived at six Spanish airports on Monday, but the doses intended for Madrid were diverted to the northern city of Vitoria. Authorities said police escorts would help vaccines pass through snowy streets and highways.
After the delay in the new year, health authorities in Spain had been hoping to speed up vaccination nationwide this week. Just over 50% of the roughly 750,000 doses Spain received were provided by Monday, according to the Health Ministry. Health care workers received vaccine shots in Madrid on Monday despite extensive snow clean-ups.
The country’s chief coronavirus expert, Fernando Simon, said he expected the consequences of the storm to affect vaccination plans “in some specific areas,” but that most doses should still be given in general because the priority now remains for residents of nursing homes and medical workers.
The storm Philomena left four dead and snowed, trapping more than 1,500 people in their cars, some of them for up to 24 hours. It has since moved east.
In Madrid, civil and military protection brigades, with the help of icebreakers and bulldozers, were able to clear pathways for ambulances and emergency vehicles. However, much of the city’s services remained closed on Mondays, including the main wholesale market, although some supermarkets and newsstands opened for the first time in three days. Schools are closed for this week.
Residents, some wearing short straps and walking sticks, carefully made their way over the icy ice to subway stations, the only viable way to commute to work. But this resulted in overcrowding of train cars as it was impossible to maintain a social distance. Madrid passenger trains and high-speed rail between Barcelona and Madrid resumed later on Monday.
The Spanish capital’s airport, which has been closed since Friday evening, saw 12 flights take off or land on Monday.
The slow return to normal life came as a relief to Alba Martinez, a nurse who spent six shifts without occasional naps working in the emergency ward during a snowstorm.
The 30-hour blizzard prevented her colleagues from reaching the northern Madrid district hospital. Martinez was replaced on Sunday afternoon only when a volunteer 4×4 vehicle brought reinforcements and sent them home.
“Staff self-regulated on messaging apps to see how to change shifts. But we were afraid to run out of some food that some patients needed,” she recounted, adding that the situation in intensive care units with COVID-19 patients was more difficult for her colleagues.
Martinez wondered why authorities had not stockpiled supplies and staffed at nearby hotels before the storm.
It was reasonable to anticipate the situation, because all the warnings were there. “But they didn’t,” she said.
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