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Madrid pleads for more doctors, police as coronavirus cases surge

MADRID, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Authorities in Spain’s Madrid region on Wednesday requested urgent help to hire hundreds of foreign doctors and reinforce police, as they mulled widening a partial coronavirus lockdown to more areas as cases rise.

The region is the hardest-hit in Spain by a second wave of the coronavirus and has restricted movement between and within some districts that are home to about 850,000 people.

Ignacio Aguado, the deputy head of the regional government, told reporters the region needed 300 doctors from outside the European Union who had worked in the first wave of the pandemic, but could not hire them immediately due to complex regulations.

He also asked the central government for an additional 222 national police to enforce quarantines and fines in areas under partial lockdown.

On Monday, the region asked central government for help from the army to fight the coronavirus surge in and around the Spanish capital, where the partial lockdown of some poorer areas has prompted protests.

“We’ve decided to formally request logistical help from the military to install (hospital) tents, carry out tests and disinfection tasks in each of the areas under restrictions,” Aguado said on Wednesday.

Residents in the mostly lower-income neighbourhoods where infection rates are highest say the measures are inefficient and unfair.

“The battle against the virus is not in confining, it is in primary healthcare, where we can test for the positive and negative so we can confine the people who are truly infected,” said retiree Nieves Marcos from the Usera area, one of those under partial lockdown.

Regional health data showed on Tuesday the number of areas with contagion rates exceeding 1,000 per 100,000 people had grown by nearly 50% to 53. Officials said restrictions could be widened after a review this week and have not ruled out tougher measures.

Madrid accounts for about a third of coronavirus cases in Spain and has the highest share of hospital capacity occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Spain’s cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus infections has spiked since the end of a nationwide lockdown in late June and stands at 682,267 - the highest in Western Europe. More than 30,900 people have died of COVID-19. (Reporting by Inti Landauro, Guillermo Martinez, Clara-Laeila Laudette; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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