“You are left with the feeling that there are no resources, that they have no people, and that all they do is cover up the reality by sending people home,” Pérez said.

Like many people, Alberto Pérez of Madrid used a home test to discover that his headache and cold-like symptoms were caused by COVID-19.

Unable to contact his local health center, where calls went unanswered and online appointments were booked up for the following week, he turned to a hospital emergency room for confirmation. After waiting three hours to be seen, health workers there agreed with his self-diagnosis but provided no PCR test to ensure a more reliable result.

“The nurse seeing me said that, because I had not lost my sense of taste or smell, I had the omicron variant,” said Pérez, 39, who works as an online game developer in the Spanish capital. “But how could she know?”

Overwhelmed by people wanting tests, requiring medication or needing certificates to excuse their absence from work, primary health care services in Spain are operating well past their limit during the current phase of the coronavirus pandemic. The omicron variant has fueled the latest surge of infections, although data shows it produces less-severe disease than earlier strains.

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