28 de septiembre de 2020
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Six months of quarantine, an eternity in Venezuela

By Sabela Bello

Caracas, Sep 16 (efe-epa).- Patience is running out in Venezuela. Time seems eternal and hopes of returning to normality are disappearing after half a year of quarantine. A mixture of pessimism and resignation have taken over a country where, although for many people it's complicated to survive, beating the virus seems impossible.

"Horrible" is the word businessman Pedro Velazquez uses to describe this period in Venezuela, which the coronavirus pandemic has hit hard when the country was already deeply mired in an economic, political and social crisis and left with no resources to deal with yet another critical and unexpected situation.

Although the virus has paralyzed virtually the entire planet, it hit the South American nation at a particularly critical time when unknown thousands of citizens don't even have access to running water, a basic requirement for preventing infection.

Velazquez has a clear view of it all. "It's very easy to say 'stay at home,' but 'why don't you stay at my house' is what I say to someone who has money, 'and you let me stay in yours.' The rich are comfortable, but for those of us who live day to day it's difficult," the 62-year-old told EFE.

He said that it's easy to make rules to prevent the spread of the virus when it's done from the standpoint of "comfort" and "abundance," without thinking that the pandemic will last for six months or a year. But his situation, just like that of millions of other Venezuelans, is quite different.

"People can't go out to work. People have to be at home and that's tough when they need (money) for their day to day (expenses), above all those of us who have families. It's tough," he said resignedly and with his anger in check.

Velazquez is one of those who have been affected in numerous ways by the pandemic. He's the typical citizen who must take care of himself so as not to become infected and, in turn, not infect others. But he's also the father of a family who has to bring home the daily bread and he can't just ignore his job because of the restrictions imposed by the government.

If there's no work, "there's no (shopping)" and if there's no purchasing, the family doesn't eat. Velazquez's story is identical to those of millions of others all around Venezuela.

The last six months also have been an eternity for Carmen Hernandez, a 58-year-old retiree who, trying to augment the scanty money she gets from her pension - the equivalent of just $2 per month - makes handicrafts that she then sells on the street.

"It's a disaster and they're not handling anything here. There's no production, there's nothing. What there is is hunger and a lot of crime. Looking at the situation, we're just doing things any way we can," she told EFE, visibly angry.

In her opinion, the Nicolas Maduro government "hasn't done anything" in the six months of quarantine to alleviate the situation of the most vulnerable.

"This half a year of quarantine has been very tough. Nobody's been able to work, there's no production, there's nothing. There's nothing to buy, the money doesn't stretch. This country is devaluing to the dollar. I live on a pension and it's not enough for me," she said, admitting that she doesn't know what she's going to do during the remainder of the time of restrictions, however long it might last, the uncertainty of that only serving to increase her anxiety.

During the six months of quarantine that Venezuela has experienced, the country has not managed to reduce its number of infections. Quite the contrary. During that time the infection and fatality curves have not "plateaued" or begun to "bend" downwards, not even briefly.

The spread of the virus was ostensibly contained between March and July, a time when the number of confirmed infections were only drops in the bucket - at least according to government reports, although that information was doubted right from the start by the opposition and the public at large.

Regarding the number of deaths, according to government figures there were long periods without a single Covid-19 death while the rest of the world was losing thousands of people per day. Venezuela allegedly went for a 35-day period - from April 20 to May 26 - without losing a single person to the pandemic.

That figure and the few reported infections brought praise from some quarters and disbelief from others. Some hailed the government's self-described good management of the pandemic and others criticized the opaqueness of the information that was provided.

But all doubts finally ended in July when both the number of infections and the number of deaths began to increase exponentially day after day.

Despite everything, doubts or no, with greater or lesser certainty, the quarantine is continuing and desperation is increasing amid the obvious noncompliance with the restrictions on the part of many citizens because hunger is stronger than fears of the virus.

No Venezuelan is ready to stop trying to earn money to shop for food no matter what orders the president may issue, and if they don't comply with them they have no fear that they'll be arrested or punished anyway.

There is no truce where human needs are concerned and hunger is, as always, the most powerful authorization to do whatever one needs to do.

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