Virus hits entire Venezuelan family in Peru


Lima (AFP)

The 14 members of the Hernandez family arrived in Peru from Venezuela two years ago with hopes high for a better life, but the coronavirus pandemic has cruelly shattered the dream: the grandfather died and now the entire family is struggling with the disease.

"I think that life is slipping away from me," gasps Wilmer Hernandez, 44, lying in his cramped home in southern Lima, an oxygen mask covering his face.

His 63-year-old father, Wilmer Arcadio Hernandez, lost his battle with COVID-19 on June 21, while Peruvians and Venezuelans celebrated Fathers' Day.

"My husband gave up his oxygen for his dad, but unfortunately he had already suffered too much," said Wilmer's wife Ruth Delgado, 37.

"We had to cry quietly inside, as they say, to see the old man slip away," said Delgado, a nurse.

- 800,000 migrants -

The Hernandezes are among the 800,000 Venezuelans who fled their country's economic collapse in the hope of finding a better life in what, pre-pandemic, was one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies.

Like most, they arrived overland, after crossing through Colombia and Ecuador.

All 14 travelled to Peru by bus -- Wilmer, his wife, the couple's nine children, the grandfather and two of the childrens' uncles.

Back home in the western Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, Wilmer had earned a living as a singer in a mariachi band, performing sets at parties and company events.

Once in Lima, Wilmer found work as a mariachi singer with one of his sons, while the other adults in the family worked as taxi drivers or street vendors.

They rented a rudimentary three-storey brick house in the poor Lima neighborhood of Villa Maria de Triunfo, near the city's Nueva Esperanza Cemetery.

They were doing well in their new expatriate life, encouraged they could get ahead -- until the pandemic hit.

"According to the tests, there are only six of us who are positive, but if we go by the symptoms we are all positive -- from the youngest of the girls, just six years old, to the oldest, my father-in-law, who has already passed away," Ruth Delgado told AFP.

Peru is Latin America's second worst-hit country after Brazil. Some 280,000 people have contracted the virus in the country, with more than 9,000 fatalities to date.

- Intensive Care -

"Little by little the children were falling ill. They got sick one after the other, everything was changing in the home. Now the one who is most delicate is my husband," Delgado said.

For the past three weeks the Hernandez family have been in quarantine in their home, where they pray daily to an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe they have painted on one of the walls.

A photo of Wilmer dressed in his mariachi outfit also hangs on the wall. For now his charro, or cowboy suit, and his sombreros have been put aside, as have his musical instruments.

They have no visitors, except for a doctor and a nurse who come every second day to check on their condition.

"The situation is difficult with the pandemic, too difficult because we are a large family. There were 14 of us, now unfortunately we are 13," said Delgado.

Although the Hernandezes can no longer go out to work, they spent $440 to rent an oxygen tank for Wilmer. They had to borrow the money from friends.

"My chest locks up and sometimes I feel as if I'm losing consciousness. The pain in my back is very strong. I'm worried about suffocating. Sometimes I think I won't be able to bear it," Wilmer told AFP, the oxygen tank looming over his bed.

He held up his mobile phone briefly to display a photo of his late father.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'll wake in the morning or not, if I'll stop breathing at some point. This is what worries me the most, and the anxiety of running out of oxygen."

"I already lost my dad because of a lack of oxygen."

A few hours later Wilmer's condition deteriorated. So too did his eldest son, 25-year-old Wilmer Jesus.

Doctors transferred them to separate hospitals.

Wilmer is currently in intensive care.