MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish health workers angry about the government’s handling of an Ebola outbreak jeered Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and pelted his car with surgical gloves on Friday at a Madrid hospital where a nurse lay seriously ill with the virus.
Recriminations are growing over how nurse Teresa Romero became the first person to contract the virus outside West Africa, but Rajoy said it was extremely unlikely that the disease - which has already killed more than 4,000 people - would spread in Spain.
Seven more people were admitted to a specialist isolation unit at the Carlos III hospital on Thursday, taking to 14 the number of people now under observation or being treated there, including Romero’s husband.
“Our first priority is Teresa Romero - she is the only person that we know has the illness,” Rajoy told reporters on the steps of the hospital.
Tempers are fraying over the case, with labor unions accusing the government of trying to deflect the blame onto the nurse for the failings of its health system. The health workers who have been protesting outside the hospital this week heckled Rajoy as he left the news conference in a motorcade.
The seven new admissions late on Thursday included two hairdressers who had given Romero a beauty treatment before she was diagnosed, and hospital staff who had treated the 44-year-old nurse after she was admitted on Monday.
All had come voluntarily to be monitored for signs of the disease, although none of those tested positive so far for except Romero, whose condition was described by the hospital as serious but stable.
Rajoy said he had set up a committee headed by the deputy prime minister to handle the crisis, five days after news first broke of Romero’s infection.
Romero was infected in the hospital as she treated two Spanish missionaries who caught the fever in West Africa and subsequently died, and she remained undiagnosed for days despite reporting her symptoms. On Friday, the nurse’s husband could be seen staring out of the window of his hospital room, dressed in a blue surgical robe.
Concern has risen elsewhere in Europe after Macedonia said it was checking for Ebola in a British man who died there on Thursday, although authorities said alcohol, not Ebola, may have killed the man.
A Prague hospital was testing a 56-year-old Czech man with symptoms of the virus.
The Ebola virus causes fever, vomiting and diarrhea and sometimes internal bleeding, and is spread through direct contact with body fluids. About half of those infected in West Africa have died.
The European Union has asked Spain to explain how the virus could have been spread on a high-security ward.
The top regional health official in Madrid, Javier Rodriguez, has said Romero took too long to admit she had made a mistake by touching her face with the glove of her protective suit while taking it off.
“She has taken days to recognize that she may have made a mistake when taking off the suit. If she had said it earlier, it would have saved a lot of work,” he said in a radio interview.
El Mundo newspaper published a cartoon on Friday showing Rajoy and other officials of his People’s Party pointing at the nurse under the caption: “Protocol for passing on blame”.
“They will find any way to blame her,” Romero’s brother, Jose Ramon, told the daily El Pais. “Basically, my sister did her job ... and she has become infected with Ebola.”
One union representative said on Friday that health workers from doctors to ambulance drivers were worried about their lack of training in how to deal with Ebola patients.
“Finding staff to work voluntarily (in the isolation unit) is very difficult,” said Jose Manuel Freire, spokesman for a health workers’ union.
Editing by Julien Toyer, Kevin Liffey and David Stamp