Covid19 update from Fr. Ed O’Connell in Lima

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.

The total number of cases of coronavirus on 1st February was 1,142,716 (49.1% in Lima and Callao) and 41,181 deaths (49.1% in Lima and Callao). The number of new cases has gone up dramatically. The deaths are now around 200 a day, sadly. A new lockdown started on 31 January, with strict measures in nine departments, including Lima, for two weeks but most likely will be extended.

In an interview the Deputy Minister of Health, Luis Suarez said “The seroprevalence for Metropolitan Lima is 39.6%, which means that, if we are around 10 million in Lima, about 4 million people have already been infected. For the rest of the country, studies have not yet been completed, but it is very likely that the final result will be around 30%. If we are a country of more than 30 million people, a third is a little more than 10 million Peruvians, who would have already been infected with the virus”. The Registery of Deaths (Sinadef) says there is an excess of 95,900 deaths and probably 86,844 are Covid deaths. Those who die in isolated areas of Peru are probably not included, so the number is higher still. The latter sounds much nearer the truth when listening to the people about the spread of the virus and the number of deaths that went uncounted. The second wave is underway for the past two weeks, added to that the variant type which has arrived. God help us!

There is talk of one million doses of vaccine coming from China on 9 February, and will go to the front line workers. The majority of Peruvians are looking to the last three months of this year or the first three months of next year for receiving a vaccination.

The latest statistics of the effect of the pandemic on families are: family incomes  dropped by 60% in Lima. Poverty is back up,  30% nationally, to 10 million people,  families with children and adolescents are worst hit. Over 1 million children and adolescents in poverty with high levels of malnutrition and anaemia. Children’s education has been abandoned by many families.

I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers have been in “virtual” contact since March last year with the parents, and through them with nearly 400 children. The attendance in these virtual sessions, during 2020,  by the parents was outstanding with better percentages than most primary schools.

The teachers are exhausted and worried. The latest update from the social worker was that numbers are up again: The overall Manuel Duato figures: 13 students have had Covid19: 2 are in treatment, 1 relapsed and critical and 10  recovered. Of the students’ families: 81 members have had Covid19: 8 parents are in treatment, 4 parents have relapsed and 69 family members have recovered but also added to these figures, sadly, 3 fathers and 28 other relatives have died.

Of the 75 staff: 19 teachers have had Covid19: 4 teachers are in treatment, 2 teachers have relapsed and 13 teachers have recovered. Of their family members, 48 have had covid19: 11 are in treatment, 15 have recovered but, sadly, 22 family members have died: 2 mothers, 1 father and 19 other relatives: brothers, sisters, grandparents, in-laws, nephews and nieces. We have helped 44 families on four occasions with amounts around £25 each time and at Christmas we gave £50. Again we gave larger amounts to eight families who either have a special needs child with Covid19 or are families with a member or more with Covid19 or other serious illness; all were and are in dire financial difficulties.

The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in both San Benito, in the Lima districts of Carabayllo and San Martin de Porres, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. Our Warmi Huasi teams in 2020 were in touch constantly with the parents, teachers and municipal officials about the welfare of the children. 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 programs with the children in Ayacucho, with bio-security advice and story telling and getting them to send in their stories. From January to March this year, 2021, we have arranged for teachers to be in touch, virtually, and, on some limited occasions, present with the children of the primary school in Lampa, to help those who have dropped behind, hoping to save their school year.

In San Benito, the mothers ran the five communal kitchens throughout 2020, taking a two week break around Christmas / New Year. Now they are up and running again. The figures at the end of  November: 223 families helped, with an average of 5 persons per family, means a total of 1,115 people receive a meal each day, including social cases. We have been helping each communal kitchen with the purchase of food stocks, especially vegetables, some chicken or fish, and bio-security equipment. There was a special meal for all the children, adolescents and senior citizens just before Christmas, about 800 children and adolescents, and with some senior citizens, in the different communal kitchens. Fried chicken was very well received!

Thanks to those who support the “family solidarity program” from Ireland, England, United States, Australia and New Zealand who have helped these families in Peru.

Even though people were told not to, they let off fireworks on New Year’s Eve! That tells me they have not given up, they are going to carry on the struggle for the sake of their families, even though the vaccine is a long way off yet.

Women cooking in the communal kitchens over Christmas.

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