MADRID (Reuters) - A Spanish court on Wednesday ordered a regional health authority to compensate scores of doctors for failing to protect them adequately against infection risk during the COVID-19 pandemic's first and most lethal wave.
Between March and May 2020, Valencia health authority was providing medics treating coronavirus patients in Alicante with just one facemask per week, and forced them to reuse disposable protective gear until early June, judge Ricardo Barrio said.
The court, also in Alicante, ordered the authority to pay compensation of between 5,000 euros ($5,680) and 49,180 euros to each of 153 affected doctors, with those who contracted the virus getting larger sums.
It ruled that the authority's failure to provide individual protection had exposed "all health workers to serious risks as regards their health and safety," according to a court document.
Victor Pedrera, general secretary of the CESM-CV, a doctors' union in the Valencia region that brought the case, said numbers of doctors who contracted the virus had been particularly high in the region.
Spain's initial COVID-19 epidemic was one of the world's deadliest. In the two months from March 15, 2020, it recorded almost 28,000 coronavirus fatalities, according to global statistics monitor Worldometer.
CESM-CV is suing the same health authority in four other cities - Castellon, Benidorm, Elche and Valencia - on behalf of about 1,000 other doctors, Pedrera said, predicting that the union's case could become a landmark one in Spain.
"We have been the pioneers," he said after Wednesday's ruling. "Many (other) groups of doctors and health workers will also sue, I reckon."
The Alicante court's decision is subject to appeal. A similar ruling by a court in Teruel in the neighbouring region of Aragon was upheld on appeal in September 2020, judge Barrio said.
($1 = 0.8801 euros)
(Reporting by Inti Landauro; editing by Clara-Laeila Laudette and John Stonestreet)