(TODAY NICARAGUA) On Sunday, July 22, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega made a rare appearance, at which he announced that the country’s death toll was low and that the pandemic had not affected Nicaragua’s health system – as had happened in “capitalist” countries.
Ortega said agricultural output had not suffered from the pandemic and commended “the hard-working spirit of the Nicaraguan, the hard-working spirit of the peasants, who in the worst moments have not stopped producing.”
But as the majority of Nicaraguans, experts in the country and abroad and civil organizations warn that Ortega’s regime is hiding the true extent of infections and deaths and that, despite Nicaragua’s refusal to shut down the economy, poverty and unemployment could rise dramatically this year.
According to Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health (Minsa), the “official” source for coronavirus information, 108 Nicaraguans have died sue to COVID-19 and just 3,439 have been infected, of which the majority have recovered, in the country of 6 million.
But those figures aren’t convincing to anyone outside Ortega’s circle of loyalists.
This Monday, July 27, 2020, Nicaragua’s remaining print newspaper, La Prensa, reported Nicaragua registers 2,344 deaths from pneumonia, suspected of Covid-19, in the last four months.
There aren’t made up numbers, not at least by any other than Daniel Ortega himself on July 19 personally reported the numbers published by his Ministry of Health.
The Minsa figures used in the La Prensa report indicate that between March 11 and June 30 of this year, at the height of the increase in coronavirus cases, 453 more people died of pneumonia than the total number of people who died from this same cause in the sum of the last three years, from 2017 to 2019.
Ortega said that in these 111 days of 2020, some 2,344 people died of pneumonia. However, adding the last three years, a total of 1,891 people died from this cause.
Taken into context, Ortega is not lying that there have been few deaths due to COVID-19 in his country. But the people aren’t fooled.
Pneumonia went from being the ninth most frequent cause in the last three years (2017, 2018 and 2019) to being the main cause of death in the 111 days between March 11 and June 30 of this year. In this period, deaths from pneumonia increased by 1,141%.
From another perspective, between January 2017 and December 2019 there were almost two (1.7) people who died from pneumonia on a daily basis, while there were more than 20 (21.1) people killed by this causes daily between March 11 and June 30 of this year.
When the first cases of people infected with coronavirus were reported in late March, it was reported that hundreds of cases were being diagnosed in hospitals as atypical pneumonia. The relatives of the deceased showed epicrisis with this cause of death, although the patients did not have this condition or any other comorbidity.
Three months later, the Minsa data reveal this possible underreporting of deaths by COVID-19 that many relatives of the deceased and doctors in hospitals reported.
“We cannot affirm that they were for Covid-19 because no tests were carried out, but the increase may reveal that it was one of the under-registries they used,” health worker Carmen Torres told La Prensa.
The increase was such that if the same average of pneumonia deaths in the last three years had been followed, in these 111 days 189 people would have died from this cause, instead of the 2,344 that Ortega confirmed.
Rival calculations made by a group of Nicaraguan epidemiologists, medical professionals and students known as the Observatorio Cuidadano (Citizen Observatory) suggest that the number of COVID-19 cases in Nicaragua, updated on July 27, 2020, is 8,755 and 2,487 deaths, with the majority of the cases and deaths in Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua.
Backing up the Observatorio’s claims is the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional arm of the World Health Organization, that says the government’s data lacks transparency and that, “in the absence of updated and transparent information from the government, unofficial data sources like the Citizen Observatory should be taken into account”.
Official data is only published weekly, but in Ortwga’s Nicaragua weekly is not every week. And the official data has not provided detailed statistics on the age, sex, and location of those infected, nor on testing.
The PAHO’s concerns go back at least April, when its director, Dr Carissa Etienne, pointed out the Ortega regime’s lack of testing, contact tracing, and case reporting, as well as its weak disease prevention and control measures.
Also in April, the medical journal the Lancet published the writings of several epidemiologists that Nicaragua’s response to the pandemic has been “perhaps the most erratic of any country in the world to date.” They noted that the government had recommended self-quarantine for travelers from some countries but had not restricted travel, closed borders, or suspended public events, such as the “Love in the time of COVID-19″ promoted by Ortega’s wife and vice-president, Rosario Murillo.
In contrast to its neighbors, in Nicaragua businesses have continued to operate, festivals and cultural events are happening on an almost weekly basis, and schools remain open.
And despite Ortega’s insistence, after 40 days of self-hiding, that normal life and business must continue, that the virus is under control, the United Nations predicts that unemployment will exceed 9% in Nicaragua this year, as a result of the pandemic, and that the number of Nicaraguans living in extreme poverty will rise this year from 17% to 22% — nearly a quarter of the entire population.
Ortega’s disappearance this time around is allegedly due to Ortega having been infected with the COVID-19 virus. This according to businessman José Dolores Blandino, a supporter of the dictator, although politically oppositional, and the father of Xiomara Blandino, common-law wife of Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, sone of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.