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Operation: Hide Covid-19 deaths

The purchase and centralization of coffins through city halls is part of a strategy to make Covid-19 deaths invisible, by taking control of burials and hiding demand at funeral homes.

(TODAY NICARAGUA) At 3:00 pm Thursday afternoon, July 16, at the Civil Registry of Managua there was a line that started at the gates and rolled for almost a block.

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. Ambulance workers at the Alemán Nicaragüense hospital had transferred suspected Covid-19 patients. LAPRENSA / Óscar Navarrete.

Here, among the registrations of a divorce, marriage and the birth of a baby, and others, these days, however, what a worker calls out from behind a window: “Death certificate, come in!”

After receiving two stamped papers, a woman steps aside to review them line by line. She wears a light blue mask and a face protector. The woman sees that everything is in order with the death certificate. “Thank God I have it, four days ago I came to request it, and the line was longer,” she says a little relieved, as she walks towards the gates.

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The death registration lines at this time of COVID-19 is the clearest picture of mortality in Managua. Despite the fact that videos of express (quick) burials reported through social networks are less frequent, this place still shows symptoms of a city attacked by a virus that has spread.

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA.

At night in hospitals, emergency rooms are empty, and funeral cars or vans with coffins and men in special suits are no longer visible.

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. Transfer of patients with Covid-19 from the Manolo Morales hospital to the Alemán Nicaragüense are carried out in the early hours with great stealth by the health authorities. Oscar Navarrete / LA PRENSA.

“People are not coming to hospitals,” says an emergency physician at a public hospital, who spoke to La Prensa on condition of anonymity. “People are treating COVID-19 symptoms at home because they are afraid of going to hospitals,” he adds.

La Prensa says it has documented a method that has allowed the municipalities to have greater control over the images of coffins moved through the streets at all hours of the day.

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Through an analysis of data from the Annual Contracting Program of all the mayors registered in the State Contracting System (Siscae), it was verified that this year 24,210,717 Córdoba  (US$733,000 dollars) was allocated in the purchase of coffins for the “donation of people with limited resources”. In 2019, the amount assigned for these purposes was 13,393,445 Córdoba (US$394,000 dollars). In 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 10,817,272 more was allocated.

The municipalities with the most assigned resources are Managua, León, Estelí, Tipitapa and Chinandega. These departments are also the ones that recorded the most deaths from pneumonia and suspected of the COVID-19 virus in the latest report from the Observatorio Ciudadano, for July 9 to 15.

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. The facade of the MADINSA Funeral Home in the Altagracia neighborhood, this funeral home is in charge of contracting the Managua Mayor’s Office for the elaboration of coffins. Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA.

Matagalpa with 186 suspicious deaths, and Masaya with 245 suspicious deaths, according to the Observatorio, are the departments allocated the least resources for the purchase of coffins. This year, Masaya has not allocated a single Córdoba, while Matagalpa has registered 15,500 Córdoba (US$450 dollars).

However, in this year’s purchases, 16 municipalities that did not allocate resources for coffins last year have now done so. For example, León, which according to the Observatorio has 178 suspicious deaths, received 4,000,000 Córdoba for funeral services, the second highest allocation after Managua.

Municipalities buying caskets has lowered demand at private funeral homes and controlled coffin transfers and burial times. “They bury them at dawn,” says the source of the public hospital. “The security guards are very vigilant and only allow a family member to enter because of the deceased,” he adds.

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. Transfer of patients with Covid-19 from the Manolo Morales hospital to the Aleman hospital are carried out in the early hours with great stealth by the health authorities. Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA.

However, during two tours of this La Prensa’s team on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in various public hospitals, they did not see funeral cars with coffins come out. What is still seen are ambulances arriving transferring patients with oxygen to Emergencies at the Hospital Alemán Nicaragüense, the referral center to attend COVID-19 cases.

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Only three places have also been designated to register deaths: the Managua Mayor’s Office, the Hospital Salud Integral and Hospital Solidaridad, when before the process could be done in district delegations 5, 6 and 7, and the Government Services building (Servigob).

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA.

“Registration of deceased is suspended here,” said a worker from one of these delegations when asked about the change.

Public cemeteries, such as Caminos del Cielo, located in the Laureles Sur neighborhood of Managua, are guarded day and night by Frente Sandinista (government party) supporters. But from afar you can see men digging the ground in the morning and afternoon. The mounds of earth next to each hole and the gravediggers behind, ready to bury.

Managua, Nicaragua. 16/07/2020. Oscar Navarrete/ LA PRENSA.

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