The Spanish military has found older residents of some care homes "completely abandoned" and even "dead in their beds," Defense Minister Margarita Robles said in a television interview on Monday.

They were found as soldiers disinfected and provided emergency health care services this week to residential homes across the country. Robles did not give an exact figure for the number of dead bodies found by Spanish soldiers.

With more than 39,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,800 deaths as of Tuesday, Spain is the second hardest-hit country in Europe.

On Tuesday, 514 new deaths were registered in a 24-hour period, the worst increase since the outbreak began. Retirement homes have been particularly affected.

Last week, one privately owned home in Madrid reported 20 deaths and 75 infections, claiming it didn't have adequate material to take care of the sick residents and dead bodies.

While the usual protocol in Spanish nursing homes is to put the body of a deceased person in cold storage until a funeral service picks it up, bodies are now being left in beds until properly equipped staff can remove them.

Speaking in a television interview, Robles said staff in some centers had left the nursing homes after cases of COVID-19 were detected. Residents were abandoned to take care of themselves, even though some were sick and in serious condition.

The defense minister said the government will take action against those responsible. "We will be completely relentless and forceful with the kind of treatment elderly residents receive in these centers," Robles said. "I know that a vast majority [of centers] are fulfilling their obligations."

Meanwhile, Spanish prosecutors have launched an investigation into the incidents. In Spain, around 19% of the population is older than 65; the country has one of the longest life expectancies in the world.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said residential care homes are "a high priority during this time" for the Spanish government, and it will exert "maximum control" over these centers.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called for the nationalization of all privately owned nursing homes, just as he had previously called for the nationalization of private hospitals, to help ensure better access as well as adequate staff and equipment. Over the weekend, Spain's Defense Ministry made thousands of phone calls to seniors living alone or in vulnerable situations to assess their health.

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