Lima's Athletes Village playing a role in Peru virus recovery

Lima (AFP) –


The Athletes Village built for Lima's Panamerican Games is being put into service again -- as a hospital treating hundreds of Covid-19 patients.

"Every patient who's discharged is a win for us," said Maritz Huapaya, head nurse at the overflow facility set up at the venue to treat the South American country's huge caseload.

Lima hosted the Pan American Games in 2019, and the purpose-built athletes' compound hosted thousands of competitors and their delegations.

Peru, which has the world's highest mortality rate from Covid-19, converted part of the facility into a hospital in late March to cope with an early surge of virus patients.

It has proved a rare bright spot in the country's grim fight against the disease, as more than 10,000 patients have recovered there and been sent home.

One of the oldest survivors, 97-year-old Maria Isabel Velasco, was wheeled out of the hospital amid fanfare on Wednesday as nurses in light blue biosafety overalls released colorful balloons and danced to cumbia music, celebrating another small win against the coronavirus.

A sign said: "Believe in yourself, everything is possible."

"She is leaving totally recovered and lucid," said Carlos Olivera, the director of the facility.

- Crisis country -

Peru, with more than 66,000 infections and nearly 30,000 deaths to date, is Latin America's second hardest-hit country after Brazil.

With many poor and vulnerable people among its population of 33 million, Peru has the world's highest mortality rate from Covid-19 -- 90.48 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Peru recorded a new spike in mid-August, but both cases and deaths have been decreasing for the last three weeks.

Prime Minister Walter Martos nonetheless last week extended a national emergency until September 30 and prolonged a lockdown in some of the worst-affected areas.

The departments of Cusco, Moquegua, Puno and Tacna will remain in lockdown, as they have been since Peru started lifting restrictions in the rest of the country, including Lima, from July 1.

The country's borders remain closed and a nighttime curfew in force since March 16 has been extended.

- 'Life' -

In the former athletes' facility, more than a thousand apartments were in the process of being refurbished for sale when the pandemic struck and the government turned four of the complex's seven buildings into a hospital for Covid-19 patients.

The facility has lost only 53 patients among the more than 12,000 it has treated over the past five months, with more than 10,500 discharged and recovered, officials said.

Around 1,600 people are hospitalized there at any one time.

Cesar Sayan, 64, was admitted with breathing difficulties in early August.

"Now that I'm going home after 33 days, I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity," Sayan told AFP.

More than 1,000 people, including 325 doctors and 354 nurses, work in the emergency hospital in the south of Lima.

"This is a small town that has become our new home," said nurse Huapaya, 53, who has lived and worked in the so-called Villa Panamericana since March.

"The Villa is life," she said.