Bolivia funeral homes, cemeteries overwhelmed as COVID-19 deaths mount

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in La Paz
A woman mourns for a relative, buried in a mass grave for people who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the reopening of the General Cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia September 24, 2020. REUTERS/David Mercado

LA PAZ, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Corpses in Bolivia have begun to pile up as a fierce second wave of the coronavirus has overwhelmed funeral homes and cemeteries, according to officials, stoking fears the growing backlog could become yet another focal point of infection.

The bodies of the dead, wrapped in impromptu Andean alpaca wool blankets and blue plastic bags or even packed into suitcases have inundated funeral parlors in the capital La Paz, the hardest hit region of the Andean nation.

Jorge Silva, Bolivia's vice-minister of consumer protection, said authorities have found corpses strewn on the floors of garages, porches, and hallways of funeral homes, and he accused some owners of seeking to profit from the recent spike in deaths by taking on more corpses than they can safely handle.

"This is good business for these companies but logically, it also puts the health of the population at risk," Silva told Reuters. He called the homes "focal points for infection."

But funeral home owners in El Alto, Bolivia's second largest city, said many cemeteries had stopped accepting the bodies of COVID-19 victims, leaving them with few options.

"We in El Alto have no place to bring our dead," said Carmen Apaza of the Taylor Funeral Home.

Bolivia is among South America's poorest countries and the second wave of coronavirus cases has pummeled its ailing health care system, pushing many hospitals to the brink of collapse.

The country, initially slow to lock down vaccines, recently received a batch of Russian Sputnik V doses to start its inoculation program. It expects to receive one million more doses via the COVAX program later this month.

Bolivia has reported 225,910 infections and 10,687 deaths from COVID-19 since the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally. Infections in recent days have reached 80% of the first wave peak.

Health experts in Bolivia estimate January was the second deadliest month since the pandemic began.

Reporting by Monica Machicao; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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