Coronavirus patient turned away from Bolivian hospitals

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – One of two people confirmed to have the coronavirus in Bolivia is being sheltered in a government office after local residents and medical staff blocked her entry to up to four hospitals in a provincial city, local media and government health officials said on Wednesday night.

The woman, said by local media to be 65, was transferred by ambulance from the small central Bolivian town of San Carlos to the provincial capital of Santa Cruz on Wednesday afternoon. But concerns over scarce resources and overcrowding saw her turned away from several medical centers, local media said.

“We are not going to allow this woman’s entry because this hospital does not have the conditions to handle a coronavirus case,” one unnamed nurse told Bolivia’s main El Deber newspaper. “There are a large number of patients and people who could be infected.”

Oscar Urenda, a local health official, confirmed the impasse at a news conference in Santa Cruz on Wednesday night.

“We had an area prepared in the San Juan de Dios hospital but we could not overcome the intransigence and lack of humanity of people there,” he said. “We made a plan B, moved to other health centers but everywhere locals barred access.”

Instead, he said, the woman has been housed in a building belonging to the regional government. “She is being cared for and protected in a place with efficient care conditions, and doctors and nurses are standing by for us to find a suitable health center.”

He said the spread of the coronavirus in Bolivia was inevitable, after the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic earlier on Wednesday.

“The disease is going to spread and it is not due to lack of foresight; it has spread everywhere,” he said.

Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest nations, has seen significant political upheaval in recent months with the controversial departure from office of its longtime president Evo Morales.

On Tuesday it reported its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus, which emerged late last year in China and causes a respiratory illness that can be fatal.

Meanwhile, residents of Yacuiba in southern Bolivia were reported by the newspaper El Deber to have blocked the land border with Argentina over coronavirus fears.

Locals told the paper that they would not allow people to cross the border unless central government put in place better sanitary controls.

Bolivia has land borders with five other nations.

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