Bolivia digs mass graves as cemeteries fill with coronavirus victims

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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Local authorities are digging mass graves at cemeteries across Bolivia to receive a new wave of victims from COVID-19, unnerving Bolivians as the outbreak rips across the Andean nation.

Bolivia has registered 35,500 cases of the virus and 1,200 deaths. Though the tally is low in comparison with neighbors Peru, Chile and Brazil, new cases have spiked in recent weeks, overwhelming the country´s fragile health care system in some areas.

Cochabamba, a central Bolivian city, has been especially hard hit. Back-hoes and trucks there are opening up large pits in which to bury the most recent casualties.

Raquel Loaiza, a representative of the region´s funeral homes, said residents dying of natural causes had been buried but those who died of COVID-19 were in limbo.

“Not one has been buried,” Loaiza told reporters. She said as many as 135 bodies were awaiting burial.

The predicament has alarmed local residents, who worry the mass graves could trigger new infections in the neighborhoods surrounding cemeteries.

The landlocked country of 11.7 million people registered its first novel coronavirus infections on March 10. But cases have since spiked as the country eased up restrictions to allow its ailing economy to revive.

Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Dan Grebler