Resisting Lockdown, Nicaragua Becomes a Place of Midnight Burials

Resisting Lockdown, Nicaragua Becomes a Place of Midnight Burials

MANAGUA — Just hours after Yamil Acevedo died in a hospital, funeral home workers in hazardous materials suits strapped his coffin to the back of a pickup truck, drove it to a cemetery and buried him in the dark of night.

Across Nicaragua, families are being forced to hold these “express burials,” rushed funerals at all hours of the night, without time to call a priest or to buy flowers.

The services are happening so fast, and in such a haphazard fashion, that relatives worry terrible mistakes are being made.

“The doctor said, ‘If you can bury him as soon as possible, do it,’” said Amani Acevedo, Mr. Acevedo’s daughter. “I don’t know that the person in that coffin was even him.”

Long lines have formed at the country’s hospitals, and pharmacies have run out of basic medicines. The popular baseball season has been suspended, with players refusing to take the field.

The signs are everywhere that the coronavirus is raging across Nicaragua.

But the Nicaraguan government insists it has the virus firmly under control, with the lowest Covid-19 death toll in Central America.

Nicaragua, a nation of 6.4 million people, is one of the last countries to resist adopting the strict measures that have been put in place around much of the world to curb the spread of the disease. It never closed its schools. It did not shutter businesses. Throughout the pandemic, the government not only allowed mass events — it organized them.

Families say the consequences of these decisions are being buried, literally, under cover of darkness. Without any testing for Covid-19, they are told that their loved ones died of pneumonia and — because of fear of contagion — are urged to bury them as soon as possible.

Health organizations are struggling to get accurate case numbers. Testing is limited and controlled by the government. Doctors and activists watching respiratory illnesses spread around the nation are bracing for disaster, just two years after antigovernment uprisings against President Daniel Ortega turned violent.

Facing withering criticism, the government released a report last Monday stating that critics were trying to sow chaos, and that the vast majority of people in the country, the second-poorest in the hemisphere, could not afford to lose work under a strict lockdown.

In the document, which was posted online, the government compared its approach to that of Sweden, challenging “one-size-fits all” tactics and arguing that each country’s response to the pandemic should be tailored to its own reality.

“Countries that have totally closed their economies are uncomfortable with the example of countries that do not apply a draconian closure and do not destroy their economies to face the pandemic,” the government said in the document.

The document did not say how many people had been tested for the virus or explain why the government has allowed mass events — like food festivals and a march called “Love in the Time of Covid” — to continue as planned.

In a video the government prepared, Paul Oquist, an American-born adviser to Mr. Ortega, said people in the countryside could not shelter at home because they were busy milking cows, gathering eggs and finding wood. Some 80 percent of workers in Nicaraguan cities have informal jobs, he said, and if they do not work, they do not eat.

Mr. Oquist added that the country’s health system was prepared for the outbreak because the Ortega government had increased the number of hospitals and doctors over the past 13 years. Nineteen hospitals were designated to respond to the coronavirus, and a mass campaign to disinfect taxis, buses, schools and markets was underway.

For almost two months, the government reported only handfuls of infections. In late May, however, as signs of the spread of the virus became more obvious, the government’s count shot up 10-fold, and the Ministry of Health now says it has confirmed 759 cases and 35 deaths.

The Citizen Observatory, an anonymous group of 90 doctors, epidemiologists and other public health volunteers who formed an underground organization to track coronavirus cases in Nicaragua, puts the coronavirus death toll in Nicaragua at 805. They have counted 3,725 cases as of Saturday.

The government says routine pneumonia cases, which are no higher than normal, are being conflated with the coronavirus.

Ms. Acevedo said the absurdity of the pneumonia diagnosis given her father, a 61-year-old retired executive assistant who died after a two-week illness, was underscored by the timing of his funeral: midnight.

Although experts say it is not necessary, people dying of “atypical pneumonia” are being buried quickly because of an apparent fear of contagion — making the incorrect diagnosis obvious, the family said.

Since when, Ms. Acevedo asked in an interview, do Nicaraguans bury their dead at such hours? Pneumonia cases in other years had not led to such hurried, late-night funerals.

“My father did not die of pneumonia,” Ms. Acevedo said. “My father died of Covid-19.”

The pandemic has arrived at a time when trust in the Nicaraguan government is low. Two years ago, enormous uprisings against Mr. Ortega left hundreds of people dead or in prison.

In the document released last Monday, the government asserted that its opponents were trying to use the pandemic to force economic collapse and undermine Mr. Ortega’s administration at a time when the economy is still reeling from the uprisings, which it says cost more than 150,000 jobs.

Some doctors say they fear speaking out, since it could cost them their jobs — or worse — as was routine during the political crisis.

Dr. Carlos Quant, the chief of the infectious disease unit at Manolo Morales Hospital in Managua, said at least 100 medical workers at his hospital were out sick, yet the hospital stopped testing staff members for the illness.

He said that it was unclear whether there was a shortage of testing supplies or a bottleneck at the testing facilities centralized by the government, but that few of the patients who probably died of Covid-19 were likely to have had the correct cause of death listed on their death certificates.

“I don’t know if this is a bad intention to have an undercount, to hide information or hide data, but it’s very easy for the government to say, ‘No, these are atypical pneumonias,’” he said. “And, sure, they are atypical pneumonias, because they are not tested.”

With testing centralized by the government, it is difficult for private hospitals to conduct their own exams.

  • Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

“They hide the information and hide the tests,” said Luis C. Siero Alfaro, whose father, Cristóbal Siero Huembes, 59, an airline pilot, died May 15. “The nights that my father was in the military hospital, they were taking 15 to 20 people out through the back every night. You could see it. You saw people filming it.”

Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also the first lady and the spokeswoman for the Nicaraguan government, has criticized such videos as “fake news” filmed in other countries.

But in a Facebook Live video that Mr. Siero shot of his father’s body being taken from the morgue to the cemetery at nightfall shows unmistakable scenes from Managua, including the “Tree of Life” structures that Ms. Murillo installed throughout the capital in 2013, which many described as a symbol of wasteful government spending.

Mr. Siero’s video shows a bare-chested gravedigger working at night, with a T-shirt pulled over his face. In the video, when Mr. Siero asked the funeral workers why they drove so fast to the cemetery, the worker said he was “following orders,” but did not say whose.

“From the moment they admitted him until he died, my father never got a test result for Covid,” despite having all the symptoms, Mr. Siero said.

Ms. Murillo did not respond to a request for comment, and a request to interview the health minister went unanswered.

Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, the assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization, the regional division of the World Health Organization, said international health authorities were struggling to get accurate data from Nicaragua. Most countries provide daily figures, while Nicaragua releases only weekly numbers.

Nicaragua has not accepted the organization’s offer to send international experts to carry out an epidemiological analysis and an evaluation of Nicaragua’s health services, he said. But he said the government did eventually agree in recent weeks to limit the size of mass events.

While the government has not closed schools, most classrooms are empty: Parents are keeping their children home.

“The whole world has to understand the truth of the crime that our government is committing,” said Elena Cano, whose 46-year-old son, Camilo Meléndez, the facilities manager at the National Assembly building, died May 19 after trying to get medical care several times.

His death certificate says he died of acute respiratory failure as a consequence of “unusual severe pneumonia.”

Alfonso Flores Bermúdez reported from Managua, and Frances Robles from Key West, Fla. Alexander Villegas contributed reporting from Costa Rica.

Source link

About The Author

We are independent. we bring you the Real news from around the world.

Related posts

Leave a Reply