BARCELONA (Reuters) – Hundreds of primary care doctors on Tuesday went on strike in the Spanish region of Catalonia calling for better working conditions as coronavirus cases rise.
With close to 900,000 registered cases and more than 33,000 deaths, Spain has become the pandemic’s hotspot in Western Europe with the capital Madrid and nearby suburbs on lockdown since last week.
Public primary care centres are the first line of defence against the virus as they handle testing and tracing potential cases as well as treating the sick. Medics say those centres are overwhelmed.
“We’re asking for help, because we cannot give people the resources they need to be treated during this COVID pandemic,” said Natalia Roses, a doctor at a protest in Barcelona on the first of the four-day strike.
The strike was called by union Metges de Catalunya that represents close to 6,000 public primary care doctors. They are demanding pay rises and new hirings to compensate for the impact of budget cuts in the last decade, as well as other improvements to better distribute the workforce to deal with the crisis.
Almost 20% of doctors backed the strike, Catalan regional government spokeswoman Meritxell Budo told reporters, adding the regional authorities listened to their plea.
Budo said Catalonia was at the “very worrying” start of a second wave of the virus and new restrictions to reduce mobility and social interactions would be announced later this week.
Shouting “Enough” and holding banners, hundreds of doctors – many dressed in white scrubs – protested in central Barcelona.
“I think health personnel are the ones with the most reasons to go on strike with the way things are today,” said university professor Jose Enrique Gallego, 60, outside a health care centre.
(Reporting by Luis Felipe Castilleja, Jordi Rubio and Joan Faus; Writing by Joan Faus, Editing by Inti Landauro and Janet Lawrence)