The Ebola Diary: Friday, Oct 10 2014, Madrid

There is a more pronounced note of panic to coverage today. This is perhaps a function of the number of people now in isolation — fourteen (plus confirmed case, Ms Teresa Romero Ramos). Among those in quarantine we now for the first time find non-medics: two beauticians who gave Ms Romero Ramos a wax.

The alarm in the press is mirrored by growing anxiety out on the streets. People have been photographed wearing masks in Ms Romero Ramos’s Alcorcón neighbourhood, where the nurse’s aid was going about her daily life from the latter half of September, when she came into contact with the virus, until Monday last. Murmurs of complaints from cleaning staff in both hospitals involved in the treatment of Ms Romero Ramos have found their way to the media. The guts of these grumblings centre on a number of  what must be for them terrifying uncertainties: is their work putting them in danger of contracting ebola?; is their personal protective garb and equipment up to scratch?; are they dealing with ebola-contaminated material in a safe way? Medical centres throughout Madrid have demanded — and received — biosafety suits.

It seems like the crisis is bringing out the worst in some people. The families of those involved in the treatment of the trio of ebola sufferes have reported being shunned — invitations to birthday parties being revoked and that kind of thing. With scenes such as the clearing out of all “regular” patients from the Carlos III Hospital under a darkness only lit up by the lights of camera crews, one could not fault people for experiencing worry or even mild hysteria, but the turning of backs on friends and neighbours out of a fear and ignorance that would be more at home in the type of illiterate, pastoral society we normally associate with ebola shows that some people have now officially “lost it”.

Losing one’s nerve is not confined to lay persons: some nurses have refused to work in the Carlos III hospital and a number have quit rather than deal with the virus. Doctors are demanding that it be justified in writing (in official communiques) who is to be assigned to the Carlos III hospital.

The government must be sensing this panic (or equally, are on a mission to silence the deafening criticism of its handling of the crisis to date) because President Mariano Rajoy and the Autonomous Region of Madrid’s President, Ignacio González, visited the isolation ward at lunch time. President Rajoy’s message was all about calming things down and giving the impression that everything is going to be OK. These sentiments were backed up by the announcement of the creation of a ministerial committee to take charge of the crisis (better late than never). The committee will be headed by Vice president Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría (the new Minister for Ebola!) and will be advised by an expert body of scientists. We may finally witness joined-up (and grown-up) action from the authorities.

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About ucronin

Microbiologist, brewer, writer, fan of James Joyce, guitar player and gardener, U. Cronin was born in the county town of Ennis, Co. Clare. He's spent much of his adult years moving country — between Spain and Ireland — and at present he is to be found back in his native town. Author of five novels and working on a sixth, U. is back in the lab and engaging his passion for looking for bugs using very bright lasers. Let's hope it turns out well!
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