Health workers demand president return country to quarantine until current wave of virus passes
Bolivian doctors demand a nationwide lockdown and threaten to stop taking in new patients as an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, which they say kills on average one doctor per day, forces hospitals at the breaking point.
New daily coronavirus infections in the Andean country, which received its first batch of Russian vaccines against Sputnik V on Thursday, hit a single-day high of 2,866 this week and deaths attributed to the outbreak have passed 10,000.
“At the rate we’re going, there will be a total collapse,” said Ricardo Landivar, director of the Medical College of La Paz. “… We are going to have patients who die on the streets without being able to be treated by medical personnel.”
Unions of healthcare workers and doctors are demanding that President Luis Arce return to lockdown until the current COVID-19 wave – Bolivia’s second – passes.
But the government has been reluctant to further undermine the landlocked country’s already struggling economy.
Arce, who is expected to be one of the first in the country to be vaccinated with Sputnik V, said the arrival of the Russian vaccine could help Bolivians “breathe a little easier”.
Leaders of medical unions, however, point to the high death rate – the country’s 11.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at around 210,000 – and say that every day more than one doctor or agent health loses his life.
In cities, hospitals are often visibly crowded inside and out, with signs on doors and walls warning “no room for new patients” and “emergency rooms have collapsed”.
“Doctors are dying every day,” said Patricia Almanza, doctor at Petrolero Hospital in La Paz.
“The week before, seven doctors died, yesterday another doctor died and today another… and the government does not want to order quarantine not even for two weeks… because it is more interested in the economy.
The Bolivian government has entered into agreements for 15 million combined doses of Sputnik V, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and others through the international COVAX mechanism co-managed by the World Health Organization.
It will begin vaccinating frontline workers with the first 20,000 doses of Sputnik V.