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Panama says it will enable ‘abandoned’ hospital for Covid-19

September 21, 2020

The Panamanian government said Monday it will enable an unfinished hospital to care for Covid-19 patients.

The hospital’s construction, the government denounces, was “abandoned” by the Spanish company FCC, owned by Mexican magnate Carlos Slim.

“The work has been abandoned by the contractor,” Enrique Lau, director of the Panamanian Social Security Fund (CSS), told AFP during a visit to this hospital complex, called Ciudad de la Salud, accompanied by deputies and officials of the Comptroller’s Office.

“We have come to see the conditions” of the hospital in order to establish “the things that must be done to be able to finish the work, but within the framework of the law,” Lau added.

However, the official said that despite the fact that the work “has not yet been delivered,” Panamanian health authorities intend to enable a part of the hospital with 300 beds to care for patients with the coronavirus.

The Spanish company Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC) won a bid from the CSS in 2011 for $554 million to build the City of Health.

The project, located on the outskirts of Panama City, planned for 17 buildings, more than 1,700 beds, 50 operating rooms and 300 doctor’s offices across some 220,000 square meters.

But the works were paralyzed in 2015 due to alleged irregularities in the building and the materials used.

“The company has not breached the contract at any time” and the project’s extension is due to “causes not attributable to the contractor,” Isaac Figueroa, of FCC’s legal team, said recently.

Now Slim’s company is demanding $125 million and the termination of the original contract due to the pandemic, despite the fact that a third of the works are still missing.

Panama, with four million inhabitants, has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Central America, with 2,257 deaths and more than 106,000 infections.

Panamanian authorities fear that the reopening of several economic sectors in the country and the end of the quarantine will cause a re-outbreak of the pandemic.

Despite the disagreements, Lau considers an agreement with FCC viable so that “in a concerted manner” the Panamanian government can “make use of the facilities.”

“It is regrettable every day that passes without doing anything. [This case] threatens the health of the population,” Lau said.

A Spanish court has charged FCC with allegedly paying bribes in Panama for $82 million over various projects, including the Ciudad de la Salud.

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