(Corrects name of Casaverde director in paragraph 8)
By Elena Rodriguez and Michael Gore
MADRID (Reuters) -Elderly residents from a nursing home outside Madrid relished the fresh air and freedom of a guided tour around the city’s zoo on Wednesday, delighting in particular at the sight of Bing-Xing the giant panda.
Around 50 residents and staff from the Casaverde home, all of them vaccinated, were whisked through the zoo’s leafy trails on a miniature train and introduced to some of the park’s most charismatic inhabitants, in their first organised excursion since the COVID-19 pandemic struck last spring.
“It’s great to leave, to get out of the monotony of the nursing home, especially as we have been confined to it for so long,” said Manuel Roman, one of the residents.
Mariano Valdera, 80, was thrilled to see a wide range of animals, from pandas and elephants to birds.
“Here I feel just like I used to years ago in my village, in the middle of nature, listening to the birds, which I haven’t heard for such a long time,” he said.
Nearly 43,000 elderly people in Spanish nursing homes died of COVID-19 or a suspected infection during the first wave of the pandemic.
After such a devastating loss, authorities prioritised the vaccination of people who work and live in care homes, achieving nearly total coverage by the end of February.
Cristina Bravo, director of the Casaverde home, stressed the importance of being able to return to some semblance of normality: “Today was a very exciting day, they were really looking forward to going outside again…Today we have forgotten about the pain.”
(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez, Michael Gore and Susana Vera;Writing by Nathan Allen;Editing by Andrei Khalip, Alexandra Hudson)