Home / US / “I thought I was dying.” Inside Venezuela’s mandatory quarantine motels

“I thought I was dying.” Inside Venezuela’s mandatory quarantine motels

“Sometimes I sleep at night and wake up thinking I’m at the motel,” she says, crying. “I still feel traumatized.”

She, like the more than two dozen medical or humanitarian workers we spoke to to inform this report, asked CNN not to reveal their identity for fear of reprisals from the Venezuelan government.

His ordeal began when his father died in the once oil-rich city of Maracaibo in northeastern Venezuela. Doctors suspected she was a Covid-19 victim, although the test results were inconclusive. Still in mourning, his entire family was required to take a quick test. She too is back inconclusive.

From that point on, his life was completely controlled by the Venezuelan government, he says ̵

1; from where he slept to what he ate. “I was immediately isolated from that point on. I didn’t hear anything from my family, I didn’t have any contact with them, I couldn’t get anywhere near,” she says. “I was feeling frustrated, I thought I was going to die.”

She was first admitted to a government-run diagnostic center for three days, where she says she shared a non-air-conditioned room with four other patients. He had to share a dirty bathroom with the other suspected cases, two of whom, he says, “were in very poor health.”

Then she was told she was going to be moved to a motel.

Unhygienic, crowded and prison-like

Doctors we spoke to said the Venezuelan government used motels and other makeshift facilities to quarantine patients suspected of having the novel coronavirus, in an effort to separate them from the general population and prevent them from overloading already impoverished and crumbling hospitals. of the country. But these facilities have earned a reputation for being unsanitary, crowded and prison-like, with many Venezuelans fearful of being locked up inside.

“There was nothing I could do. It upset me, it bothered me,” she says, recalling the officials pleading to leave her in quarantine at home. “I told them that other countries isolate people inside their homes.”

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He argued that he didn’t need medical surveillance – he felt fine and had no symptoms. But the authorities remained impassive. The mother-of-three was sent to a motel run by a local councilor with the help of three or four Cuban doctors, she says, estimating that about 100 suspected Covid-19 patients were being held there in total.

Conditions at the motel were slightly better than at the diagnostic center but still uncomfortable, the woman said: She was given her own room, with her own bathroom, but that’s about it. As in the rest of Maracaibo, the electricity was intermittent which meant the air conditioning or TV in her room was scarce and the bathroom only worked intermittently. She was given drinking water twice a day and in very limited quantities; and personal hygiene items were in short supply.

“I spent five days without toothpaste,” he recalls.

A medical staff member disinfects the corridors of a hotel where suspected Covid-19 patients are located on July 20 in Caracas, Venezuela.
She says she received no medical treatment other than regular temperature tests and measurements, and was forbidden to leave her room, which was never cleaned during her stay. Food was given to her in small quantities and some meals were skipped, she says, suggesting protests from other patients onwards social media.

But he says the worst was when he asked the motel staff for feminine hygiene products. “They told me they would provide me with personal hygiene supplies … they gave them to me 15 days later,” she says. “My sister went to the motel entrance several times to bring me personal hygiene supplies and they told her I wouldn’t need anything because they would provide me with everything.”

After 23 days inside, she was finally allowed to leave. He says he never received a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test while inside, which detects genetic information from the virus and is the best way to diagnose those with Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization. . She says she was given four rapid tests, which only detect antibodies in the patient’s blood.

“The first two [tests]I didn’t see the results, but the last two I knew were negative, “he says.” I felt I was there longer than I should have been. “

Its history is far from unique, according to several doctors and nurses, especially in Maracaibo, where mandatory quarantine is one of the few tactics available to contain the coronavirus.

The Venezuelan government has not responded to multiple requests for comment on conditions in quarantine hospitals and motels or on its tests for Covid-19.

‘One dies, another arrives’

Maracaibo was a success story in Latin America, a powerhouse built on the economic advantage brought by Venezuela’s huge oil reserves, with a glittering Central University Hospital. But after years of mismanagement and lack of investment in the hospital, doctors say the hospital now has only nine ICU beds available, six hours of running water a day, intermittent feeding, and an X-ray machine that doesn’t it has been running for months.

This lack of basic equipment and infrastructure to tackle the novel coronavirus is a nationwide affliction in the impoverished country, with hospitals even in the wealthiest capital of Caracas plagued with shortages of pharmaceutical supplies and even disinfectants. Today, a Venezuelan doctor told CNN that “about half” of the hospitals designated to treat patients with Covid-19 do not have sufficient personal protective equipment, water or electricity.

“The world wasn’t ready to deal with the coronavirus, but with a humanitarian and economic crisis of the kind we have in Venezuela, it’s just so much worse,” a surgical nurse said. In the midst of the pandemic, crowded Venezuelan hospitals can only take in patients when their beds are free, functioning as revolving doors, he said. “One dies, another enters.”

Official figures on the number of people who have been placed in state-run quarantine are not publicly available, but doctors, NGO workers and other experts told CNN that at least half of the more than 45,000 people officially listed as recovered from Covid- 19 probably spent time in a mandatory quarantine facility.

The authoritarian regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro touted this strategy, claiming victory over the virus with some of the lowest Covid-19 numbers in Latin America: just 485 official deaths out of 60,540 officially confirmed cases as of September 13.
But experts say the number of deaths and cases could be grossly underestimated due to insufficient testing and over-reliance on the rapid antibody test, which is considered less reliable than the WHO-recommended PCR tests.

Several NGOs and doctors told CNN that they believe many infections are not reported and that in some cases patients die without even knowing they have Covid-19. “There are at least twice as many cases as those reported as deceased on the official lists, of people who died with acute respiratory symptoms, most likely had Covid-19 and who are not in the ministry’s definition,” a doctor said. CNN.

The quarantine threat could further confuse Venezuela’s coronavirus statistics, as some citizens would rather suffer in silence and hide in their homes than be identified as potentially exposed to the virus and end up in a motel for weeks.

“Several people called me asking what they should do to avoid going to the hospital because they are afraid, afraid of being hospitalized in a motel,” said the surgical nurse.

For them, the fear is not just about catching Covid-19, but what the government will do to you if it finds out.

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