When Manuel Pérez Luis died from coronavirus in a Spanish hospital, his family thought their pain could not be worse.
Yet their grief was compounded after they spent six days trying to find his body. The insurance company that was supposed to have taken care of the corpse told the family they were not sure where the body had been taken to.
Finally, after days of searching, his family were able to Pérez’s body to an ice rink in Madrid, which has been converted into a makeshift morgue because funeral services have become so overwhelmed by the deaths of thousands in the Spanish capital.
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“The pain of losing my father has been multiplied a thousand times – not only could I not get near him to say goodbye due to the fever, but because his body was lost for six days,” his son Luis Perez told The Independent.
“Even though we have located the coffin with my father’s name on it, I cannot be sure he is inside. I will never know.”
As the number of people who have lost their lives to coronavirus in Spain rose to a new daily record of 864 in the past 24 hours on Wednesday, morbid stories like this abound.
The pathogen has caused the death of 9,053 people in Spain, health authorities said – the second highest death toll in the world after Italy. The total number of confirmed cases is 102,136.
Pérez, 75, a retired police officer, was admitted to the Hospital La Paz in Madrid on 9 March after being diagnosed with coronavirus. Two weeks later, his family was informed he had died.
When the family asked the insurance company Albia where his body was taken to, they were told the company was not sure of the corpse’s whereabouts, as it was dealing with so many deaths.
“They said they were not sure if they had taken my father’s body or not. Finally, through contacts at the company we were told that his corpse had been taken to the Palacio de Hielo ice rink,” said his son.
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Luis, 45, an administrative officer at a telecoms company, said even after locating his father’s body, he could not be sure if his body was inside the coffin.
“Even when we were told where the coffin was I cannot look inside it to check it is my father because of the strict regulations in Madrid,” he said.
“Stories like ours are not isolated. I read another one in the paper today. There are so many people dying.”
Under Spain’s state of emergency restrictions, families are not allowed to get close to the bodies of their loved ones for risk of contagion.
The Pérez family are not alone in their ordeal: when Juan Pedro Morán died from the pathogen, his family was also forced to embark on a week-long odyssey to find his body.
Originally, they were told that his remains were taken from hospital to the Palacio de Hielo ice rink – the same makeshift morgue as Pérez.
However, they were later informed it was taken to a morgue in another part of the city.
Mr Morán was admitted to the Hospital Fundación Jiménez Díaz in Madrid on 18 March because he was suffering from a fever. The 83-year-old, who only had one kidney and was in poor health, died a week later.
A spokesman for Santa Lucia, the insurance company which acts for Albia, the funeral services company, said: “The health crisis which we are experiencing has increased dramatically the number of people who have died from Covid-19.
“We are working with the authorities and the armed forces to reduce waiting times in the transfer of bodies from the place of death, to temporary places of deposit to the final place of rest.
“In both these cases, the families were attended by the customer services department and informed of the location of the deceased and at their request, the bodies have been cremated.”
The Madrid regional government, which is responsible for health services in the Spanish capital, was also asked for a comment but did not respond.
Spain has been under a strict lockdown since 14 March, with all but essential workers confined to their homes.
However, the virus has continued to spread, overburdening hospitals and straining the supply of medical supplies.
Two planes carrying masks, overalls and anti-bacterial fluids – one from China and one from Turkey – landed on Wednesday at a military airport near Madrid.
Salvador Illa, the health minister, said seven million pieces of protective equipment would be distributed among health workers, bringing the total to 18 million items since the outbreak began.