Colored flags signal Guatemalans' need for help under virus curfew

Guatemala City (AFP) –


Floridalma Chavez, 24, hangs a bit of white cloth in the window of her home in Guatemala City, alerting the neighborhood that she and her family need help amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With the country under a curfew meant to stem the spread of the virus -- leaving many unable to work -- some Guatemalans are using a color-coded flag system to ask for what they need but cannot get themselves.

A white flag like Chavez's means those inside need food. Red is a request for medicine. Black, yellow or blue shows that a woman, child or elderly person is in danger of violence.

Authorities publicized the system on social media to ease the suffering of citizens who are out of work and now unable to afford basic supplies.

Already the makeshift flags -- mostly white -- are a common sight in the poorest neighborhoods and villages.

Those working jobs in informal sectors of the economy have borne the brunt of the country's curfew, imposed February 22 by President Alejandro Giammattei, and the near-paralysis of public transportation.

"We put up (the white one) because we need help," Chavez told AFP in the Mixco neighborhood in the western part of the capital, where she lives. "The situation that we're going through right now is difficult."

Her husband is a builder and cannot work under the terms of the virus mitigation measures. And she can no longer sell second-hand clothes at the market.

The family needs food, milk and diapers for their children, Chavez says.

Monica Morales also says there is no more food at home for her two children.

Her bus driver husband is also out of work.

"What the family needs is food," she said, standing on the side of the road and asking for help from the drivers of passing cars.

"We need help," her husband, 39-year-old Alvaro Herrera, said. "I am a bus driver and, as you see, we can't work. I don't have any help, and the family depends on me."

And 56-year-old Luis Garcia has strung up two flags: one white and one red. Unable to work as a security officer, his cupboards are bare and he cannot afford his diabetes medication.

Guatemala has so far seen 16 deaths out of 557 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus among the population of more than 17 million.