Written by Fr. Ed O’Connell in Peru.
It certainly feels like a second plateau, without a down slope, three times as high as the first. The total number of cases of coronavirus tallied on 19 August in Peru was 558,420, with 53.8% in Lima and Callao, and 26,834 deaths. Gradually, with an increase in the Jungle and the mountains, the number of cases and deaths are almost equal between the capital and the rest of the country. For population size, we have the second highest death rate in the world! 25,500 children and adolescents have been affected, with 106 deaths and some children under five. The medical opinion here is that a child can spread the virus with much more impact, up to 100% more, so beware with the opening of schools!
We are now in a situation where we have to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, it looks as though it is going to last well into next year! The medical facilities available are overrun and the medical staff are exhausted. Covid-19 has increased to above 9,000 new cases daily. The number of deaths now averages 200 daily.
Those under 14 can go out for half an hour a day, accompanied by an adult, but those over 65 continue in lockdown. The curfew in Peru is from 10pm to 4am. Sundays have again been declared lockdown days and 6 departments (Arequipa, Ica, Junin, Madre de Dios, Huanaco and San Martin) are in full-time lockdown along with 34 provinces in other departments of the country. Family and other social gatherings have been banned and sporting events, which were to start, have been banned as are all religious ceremonies.
The cities in the Andes were not so badly hit until the inter-provincial bus services opened up in mid-July, and since then there has been a dramatic increase in cases. For example, in Cajamarca around 90,000 people returned there from Lima and Chiclayo. In the last two weeks the number of cases have doubled there and this is being repeated in many regions of the country, especially Loreto, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno and Ancash.
I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers are in virtual contact with the parents and through them with nearly 400 children. We have helped 44 families on two occasions, as they have little to no income and are desperate. The teachers are exhausted and worried. Last week two fathers of our Manuel Duato’s Friends over-18 Club, died of covid-19, leaving their adult children without the support and love they need. Five students have had covid-19, with one still in danger. 26 parents have had covid-19, two fathers have died, two more are in intensive care, four have had relapses and the other 18 have recovered. 13 teachers have had covid-19, of whom two have had relapses and the remaining 11 have recovered.
The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in both San Benito, in the district of Carabayllo, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. The Province of Paucar de Sara Sara is getting its first cases of covid-19, about 10 in all.
In Ayacucho, our Warmi Huasi team is in touch constantly with the parents, teachers and municipal officials about the welfare of the children. We have just spent two weeks with a virtual training program for all teachers of the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara on bio-security for themselves and in turn for them to communicate the same message to all their students, mostly by whatsapp. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that the children have the books to read at home. We also have radio with the children, telling stories and getting them to send in their stories.
In San Benito, the mothers of the four homework clubs have started communal kitchens and a key local community leader started another communal kitchen. The number of families helped in the five communal kitchens has increased to 190, with an average of five per family, so you have 950 people receiving a meal each day. In the communal kitchen run out of the chapel in San Benito, they have a number of social cases: 10 elderly people and a single mother with her five children. There are a number of cases of covid-19 in San Benito – four of the parents of the children in the homework and reading clubs have recovered.
We are in the middle of winter and with the help of friends, we have managed to distribute second-hand clothes to families in need in San Benito and a bed to one family who were sleeping on the floor. Often, I am told, that the children there are the ones reminding their mothers to put on their masks before going out, so our training through whatsapp is working!
I am in touch with groups of Venezuelan families, and one of these – a family of six – is in desperate straits. They lost their accommodation and have been sleeping on the floor, a third storey flat roof, with just a plastic covering and some old blankets to keep them dry and warm. With friends, we are trying to find them somewhere to stay. I have been able to offer them three months’ rent, hopefully to tide them over this difficult moment.
The people try to be resilient; they keep going and many share what they have with others when the need arises. Many Peruvians started their lives in poverty and gradually improved their lot, but now many of the 70% whose work is in the informal sector, are destined to return to poverty.
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