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Express burials: the other tragedy of the coronavirus in Nicaragua

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  • Express burials: the other tragedy of the coronavirus in Nicaragua


    The country has only reported 25 positive cases
    Express burials: the other tragedy of the coronavirus in Nicaragua
    The world
    May 16, 2020 - 9:03 PM
    Jesús Mesa / @JesusMesa

    The government of Daniel Ortega says that in his country few people die of coronavirus, but in recent weeks dozens have died of a "mysterious pneumonia." Relatives denounce that the government buries them clandestinely, often without consulting them.

    Alberto Paraíso Mendoza, an old Nicaraguan baseball glory, entered the intensive care unit after a mysterious respiratory illness last week. Carrier of an iron health, according to his daughter, at 74 the ex-pitcher only had problems in his arms and knees, worn by his unstoppable throws.

    Therefore, when Paraíso declared that he was ill, he took them all by surprise. The former baseball player's health deteriorated rapidly and after a few days he was admitted to the Hospital España, in the city of Chinandenga, in the north of the Central American country. The deterioration was so accelerated that when his daughter came to visit him, the doctors informed her that her father had already died.

    The sports legend was buried immediately after his death by personnel from the Ministry of Health. The burial was quick. Without flowers or mariachis, as is customary in Nicaragua. "They only asked for the box and they gave us three hours to process it, and they managed to bury where he had land and not in a mass grave," a relative told local press.

    Officially, Paraíso's cause of death was atypical pneumonia, but the burial was carried out as if by COVID-19. A closed black bag, inside a sealed coffin and without the right to a vigil. Her daughter confirmed her doubts to the country: "We all know the truth."

    His suspicions are not only based on the symptoms of the disease he was presenting, but also on the way in which the Ministry of Health carried out his funeral. That of the baseball player is not the first death from atypical pneumonia that is managed in Nicaragua. In recent weeks, relatives of several patients have reported that their relatives are buried within hours of death by government officials, without consulting anyone.

    The government of President Daniel Ortega resisted imposing measures to control COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, for more than two months from the appearance of the first case in Nicaragua. Now, doctors and family members of the alleged victims say the government has gone from denying the presence of the virus in the country to actively trying to hide its spread.

    Since last week, videos have been circulating on social networks where men dressed in white uniforms are seen, from head to toe, who travel in vans with sealed coffins to the country's cemeteries. These semi-clandestine burials are carried out especially at night and early in the morning, according to the testimony of witnesses. However, sometimes the scene is repeated during the day in other cities of the country.

    One of these "express burials", as they have been called in Nicaragua, was presented in Managua on Saturday. Roberto was buried without a wake in a sealed coffin in a cemetery after being hospitalized with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. In good health, the man worked in a mechanic shop in Managua and protected himself with a mask when he traveled by bus, but died in a public hospital after becoming seriously ill a week ago.

    "The death certificate says he died of severe pneumonia. The symptoms that my friend presented were pain in the body, high fever -40 degrees- and dry cough, all the symptoms that they refer to with COVID-19, says Francisco, a friend who attended the funeral of his friend Roberto in Managua. "They even nailed us the coffin, which we couldn't open, and sent us directly to bury it."

    Experts have warned for weeks that this unusual outbreak of pneumonia is one way in which the government of Daniel Ortega "masks COVID-19", since the Ministry of Health does not carry out massive samples that determine otherwise. However, according to Nicaraguan authorities, there is no “local community transmission” in the country, and he claims that all cases have been imported.

    "Unfortunately, the diagnoses of both the infected and the dead have been underreporting and changing," says Nicaraguan epidemiologist Rafael Amador, speaking with El Espectador.

    According to the expert, the number of infections by COVID-19 is much higher than that reported by the government, which speaks of 25 cases and only seven deaths from the new coronavirus, one of the lowest infection rates in the region. Official data contrasts with that of the independent body Citizen Observatory COVID-19, which since the first case was presented in April has accounted for more than 1,000 cases and 188 suspicious deaths.

    "Any atypical pneumonia that comes now, that is detected in any hospital, is coronavirus until proven otherwise," says pulmonologist Jorge Iván Miranda, from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, to the newspaper La Prensa. "If a person dies from atypical pneumonia, it is most likely due to coronavirus, even if they have not been tested," explains the specialist.

    The battle for the coronavirus in Nicaragua has become political. During the last week, plainclothes police and government Sandinista groups have been located in the vicinity of hospitals and cemeteries in the country to be aware of people who are outside these places. The presence of these men has made people afraid to ask about their relatives' health.

    But what has generated the most anger in the relatives is that in most cases the health authorities notified the death when the gravediggers of the Ministry of Health had already buried their loved ones.

    Doubts about the contagion figures

    Five former Nicaraguan Health Ministers this week addressed a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in which they point out to the government to manipulate health information to artificially deny or decrease the number of cases and deaths from the pandemic.

    “To date, there are a considerable number of professionals infected in health units, weakening the conditions for care for those who need it; and there are personnel fired for suspicions of having transparently informed the families, ”denounced the officials.

    Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies at the Pan American Health Organization, said in a videoconference that the agency was still concerned about reporting cases in Nicaragua. He noted that unofficial reports indicate a "high" number of patients who have been hospitalized with symptoms of acute respiratory infection.

    "Nicaragua is the only country or territory in the Americas where the type of transmission is undetermined, according to our reports," he said. "As you recall, more than a month ago, PAHO expressed its concern regarding the evidence, regarding the follow-up of contacts, the reporting of cases, and these concerns remain."

    And meanwhile, the government of Daniel Ortega insists on turning its back on the pandemic. Only until a few weeks ago did authorities begin to report the progress of the pandemic in the country, but the count mysteriously stopped. And when it comes to assisting doctors and health professionals, many report that they are exposed. In early May, almost 600 specialists signed a letter demanding that the government provide protective equipment for all health workers.

    "Isolation measures have not been taken here, health workers have not been protected, there are not enough beds in any hospital in Managua, nor in any regional hospital," says Róger Pasquier, president of the Nicaraguan Association of Anesthesiology, in an interview with The Associated Press.

    The cities have not stopped like in the rest of the region and the president, along with his wife Rosario Murillo, vice president of Nicaragua, have spoken out against the isolation measures. And, on the streets, people who have lost loved ones only demand one thing from the government.

    “He (Ortega) says that in Nicaragua there is nothing, that we go out to work and that the news on social networks is false, but my family is experiencing it firsthand. Every day there are more deaths and people infected, "says Vladimir Rodríguez, a Nicaraguan who lost his brother on behalf of COVID-19. "They have to tell us the truth."

  • #2

    Coronavirus: Nicaragua’s midnight burials tell of a hidden crisis
    Country has lowest death toll in Central America, but signs are that virus is raging
    about 6 hours ago
    Alfonso Flores Bermúdez, Frances Robles in 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 pick-up 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 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, Acevedo’s daughter. “I don’t know that the person in that coffin was even him.”

    Long queues 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 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...