Deaths from coronaviruses are harsh in rural villages in Spain.

DURUELO DE LA SIERRA, Spain: when someone dies very united, the whole community walks from the church service to the cemetery, accompanying the deceased to his final resting place. In pandemic times, only a few family members are allowed.

You are used to seeing a funeral with many people, said Alberto Abad, a 54-year-old carpenter who is also mayor and sees the virus as tearing the social fabric of his city. It moves you because you know all the people who live here.

Spain has been one of the countries most affected in the pandemic, with more than 25,400 confirmed deaths, according to a count of Johns Hopkins University . But while Madrid has been the epicenter of suffering, each death in the countryside is a severe blow to struggling villages.

Duruelo de la Sierra is located in the province of Soria, in north-central Spain, one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe, home to shrinking communities amidst a landscape dotted with abandoned villages. Many in these shrinking towns and cities thought that their scattered populations would protect them from the pandemic.

Rather: Soria's relatively high percentage of older adults and limited healthcare resources created conditions for Covid-19 to have a particularly devastating impact on communities that even previously struggled to survive.

The figures, although imprecise due to the lack of evidence, tell the story: the provincial authorities reported on April 22 that 1.52% of the population of Soria was infected, compared to 0.44% in all of Spain, and the province had a virus mortality rate of 1.08%, more than double the national level of 0.46%. Authorities estimate there have been at least 500 deaths overall in Soria since the outbreak began in April, compared to a previous average of 83 per month.

In less populated areas, transmission is slower, but when it hits, it hits, Spain's top health official said of the virus.

Duruelo de la Sierra, a logging town of 1,000 people fighting to avoid extinction of depopulation, is surrounded by green hills of pine, cow and sheep forests, as well as the stone remains of forgotten houses.

Abbot, speaking to The Associated Press among the tombstones in the city's cemetery, said that March 24 will be remembered as the `` darkest day '' in many years. That Tuesday, four residents were quickly buried or cremated.

Duruelo de la Sierra generally sees one or two deaths per month and about 20 in a year, according to the mayor. From February 26 to April 2, there were 13. Five of the dead had tested positive for the virus and others were suspected to have contracted it.

Never, never before, in Duruelo's memory, did the people say goodbye to four neighbors the same day, Abad said.

Similar tragedies are taking place in Soria and other parts of the rural interior of Spain.

In Cabrejas del Pinar, Soria, a village of 380 people, nine people, or more than 2% of the population, have been lost to the virus.

Eusebio Soria, who is now recovering at home in the town, said his doctor diagnosed him with the flu, but when his fever did not go away, it became clear that he had COVID-19.

I thought he was out there but hadn't gotten here yet, he said.

Some locals believe that the people of Madrid, less than a three-hour drive south, could have brought the virus when they visited their second homes.

The province's population has plummeted since 1950, when it had 160,000 inhabitants, and many young people left for better educational and job opportunities in Madrid and other major cities. Of the 186 municipalities in Soria, 116 now have less than 100 people.

Today, the 88,000 Sorians would not even fill the stadium of the FC Barcelona football club. At 23 people per square mile (8 people per square kilometer), it is among the least populated places in Europe, comparable to the areas of the Outer Hebrides of Finland and Scotland.

Health authorities say demographic data (10% of residents are over 80, four points above the national average) made Soria more vulnerable to the virus, which is more dangerous for older people and people. with previous medical conditions.

Local leaders also point to a lack of funds for basic services.

Abad, who contracted the coronavirus himself and recovered at home, said three medical workers at the Duruelo de la Sierra clinic were not immediately replaced after they became ill with COVID-19 and had to stop working.

Things were even more serious in Tardelcuende, population 355. Mayor Ricardo Corredor said that when his only doctor fell ill, the local nursing home was without adequate medical care for several days. The 21 residents of the house were infected and seven died.

The only hospital in Soria had eight beds in the ICU before the crisis. That increased to almost 30, but some patients still had to be transferred to hospitals in other provinces, and Madrid sent medical workers.

`` When 500 people die in Soria compared to the monthly average of 83, you have to face the truth. It has a psychological and economic impact, '' he said. Carlos Martinez , mayor of the homonymous provincial headquarters of Soria. `` Medical care cannot depend on an act of generosity. ''

Mercedes Pascual, a caregiver in a nursing home in Duruelo de la Sierra who has spent more than a month and a half quarantined at home after being infected, called the isolation depressing and said the consequences promise to be grim.

`` In the town we all know each other, we are family or friends, '' said Pascual. `` We are very sad to see how they have died. When things return to normal, it will be difficult to accept it and see the emptiness that remains. ''

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