Fr. Ed O’Connell gives an update from Peru

Fr. Ed O'Connell is a Columban Father who has been working in Peru for the last 38 years. He provides an update of the Covid-19 situation in Peru and explains how people in his community are pulling together to support one another.

The lockdown in Peru ended on the 30th June, but for those under 14 and over 65 the lockdown continue at least until the 31st July. The curfew in most of the country is now from 10pm to 4am every day, including Lima.

We are in a no win situation, the covid19 seems to have reached a plateau, around 3,500 new infections each day and the number of deaths average around 180 daily. The total number of cases of coronavirus on the 13th July in Peru was 330,123 of which 196,291 (59%) were in Lima and the port of Callao. The number of people infected continues to rise around the country, especially in the northern coastal cities of Chiclayo, Trujillo and Piura, in the southern city of Ica and into the Jungle, where sadly it has affected the tribal people of the Amazon.

12,054 deaths have been recorded from covid19 in Peru on the 13th July, Lima and Callao with 6,333 (53%). Probably the real numbers are much higher than the official figures, some say up to another 30,000 more deaths have yet to be registered! The Financial Times on the 13th July stated that the excess number of deaths in Peru was 40,100 this year so far, 149% higher than normal years. 70.8% of the officlal death toll were men and 29.2% women according to the Ministry of Health.

Lima has better health facilities but even then, the public hospitals are overrun, as they are in the northern cities and in the Jungle towns. The private clinics who attend covid19, not all do, were charging enormous amounts of money. Last month the Government reached an agreement with private clinics, not all have complied so far, limiting the amount that they can charge, and bringing them within and under the strategic command of the Ministry of Health regarding covid19.
The debate is on about internal air flights and inter-provincial bus services, due to start from the middle of July, but there is great fear in the mountain departments, where they have had fewer cases, that opening up travel too early will only serve to spread the covid19.

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, with s/100 (£24) on two occasions, as they have little to no income and are desperate. This week we have received food stocks from the Ministry of Women for the families of our special needs children, every bit helps.

The Warmi Huasi project, which I also accompany, works with children at risk in both San Benito, a township on the north side of Lima 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.

We have prepared materials for the parents to re-enforce the social skills of the children and adolescents and to remind them constantly of the steps to protect themselves from the virus. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that thre children have something to read at home. In Pausa, Ayacucho, we have radio programs, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for near 4,000 children and adolescents and their parents. Competitions and story telling are favourites and we get the children to send in their stories too. Some of the content is communicated in quechua, their local language.

In San Benito, of the many families we know, 60 families fall outside of the help offered by the Government and are desperate. We have helped them several times with small amounts of money. It is all a drop in the ocean but to those who have received this help, it means everything!

The mothers of the four homework clubs have started communal kitchens and we have helped with with masks, gloves and food stocks. A key local community leader started another communal kitchen this week. The number of families being helped in the five communal kitchens has increased to 129, multiply by an average of 5 per family, and you have 630 people receiving a meal each day. Unfortunately, this is just a sign of the times to come. We are facing mass unemployment, most probably well into next year, and informal community kitchens will be on the increase once again, as they were in the late eighties and nineties.

A sense of what is going on came was captured by a religious sister working in the district of Independencia. She sent me an e-mail today: “The ladies from the communal kitchens have been been promised protection but the municipality has not delivered masks and protection yet. The ladies will not open until that is done. They are fearful. We have the virus all around us and many have gotten sick and died. The municipality came and fumigated the kitchens and are supposed to test, for the coronavirus, 10 women per communal kitchen.”

I have been in contact with Venezuelan families and have been able to help them with amounts from 100 (£24) to 300 (£72), according to their need. We had worked with them in a program run by Unicef, in which Warmi Huasi participated. Some are desperate to go home, all are hungry and some have been forcibly removed from their rented accommodation. To be far from home and in such a desperate situation. How do the mothers stay sane and what do they say to their children?

The people are resilent, they keep going and many share what they have with others when the need arises. The adults have to keep going, for the sake of their children and for their own parents, some of whom live with them. As a nation, many Peruvians started their lives in poverty and gradually improved their lot but now many, who live precariously in the informal sector, are destined to return into poverty.