Madrid shuts teacher testing center as virus fears grow

MADRID (Reuters) - Authorities in Madrid shut down a coronavirus testing center for teachers on Wednesday after large crowds formed outside, while the health ministry diagnosed 3,663 new cases of the virus, down from a peak of nearly 10,000 recorded in Spain last Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Health workers push a stretcher with a patient in the emergency unit at 12 de Octubre hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Madrid, Spain, September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina

With the new academic year starting next week, the Madrid region is screening all its teachers for coronavirus antibodies, with further tests for those with a positive result.

But the program got off to a rocky start, as footage from the EFE news agency showed hundreds of people queuing around the block outside the Virgen de la Paloma school in the northwest of the city, with little space to observe social distancing.

A spokeswoman for the regional education department said the center was shut at around 2 p.m., and those who missed their test would be given a new appointment later this week.

Five other centers across the Madrid region continued to operate normally throughout the day, she added.

Along with mandatory mask use for children over six and a strict hand-washing regimen, authorities hope the testing will ensure a safe return to school and assuage the fears of concerned parents.

“To be honest I’m scared. My grandchildren are going to school and I’m scared that they might get infected,” said Olga Morocho, an Ecuadorean living in the Spanish capital.

Madrid is at the center of Spain’s second wave of COVID-19 infections, with 467 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, more than double the country’s average of 212 per 100,000 - itself the highest rate in western Europe.

The latest national data show infections peaked between Aug. 21 and Aug. 28 when more than 9,000 cases were recorded on five days, before slowing again.

A total of 479,554 cases have been diagnosed since February, while 10 deaths were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the cumulative toll up to 29,194.

Reporting by Nathan Allen; Additional reporting by Michael Gore and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Giles Elgood